Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Media girl, interrupted.

Here's a little tip, straight from me to you: If you don't like running on the treadmill, don't sign up for a race that will require significant amounts of training in the winter. Sure, you can bundle up and face the cold, but at some point, slippery sidewalks and freezing temperatures will force you indoors. But, as runners, we persevere. As lovers of running, we learn to also love the treadmill, to appreciate the fact that it allows us to run when Mother Nature will not. That said, I will probably not be signing up for a January race next year.

So last night, I'm on the treadmill, blissfully absorbed in my favorite playlist and the captions on CNN, when someone decides to let their three young children enter the gym unattended. They run and scream and throw the stability balls around, prancing like wildebeests for a good fifteen minutes, just long enough to totally spoil my run. The guy running next to me was giving me the "is this for real?" face, so I know he feels me, too. Despite my love-hate relationship with the treadmill, running time is my precious, peaceful me-time in the gym, my haven, and I do so hate to see it interrupted by chaos and discord.

In this time-driven culture, people, unless they are bored or looking for some sort of escape, do not like interruptions (myself included, obviously). Not to say that interruptions are bad, but they can be jarring and unpleasant for the interrupted party, and can create bad juju around the interruption if handled improperly.

As a media planner, I am in the business of interruptions. How can my brand, something my target consumer does not inherently care about, become part of his or her day? How can I squeeze it in there, and give it meaning?

*Warning: Impending Advertising Metaphor*

All too often, ad campaigns are the screaming children in the gym of life. Advertisers get caught up in the promotion, creative execution, or one-upping the competition, what-have-you, and forget about the happy consumer there on the treadmill, not wanting to have proverbial stability balls thrown in his or her face. But, there’s no need to do it like that! I love advertising, and I love it the most when it is seamless, relevant, and adds value to my life. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing to take a potentially frustrating, annoying little advertising interruption and spin it into something useful. But how?

Be seamless.
Don’t interrupt, integrate! You’ve done the research; you know your consumer and your product like the back of your hand. Be choosy in your media, and wherever you can, enhance and be enhanced by the environments you select. Really smart media placements make my little heart swelleth over.

I recently saw iPod Nano running some big, beautiful rich banners on the Youtube homepage, showing how you can use the new Nano to make your own videos. Information about a new way to make videos on a video-watching website for people who like to make and watch videos. I'm going to say video, just one more time. Video. Seamless!

Be relevant.
Not all media placements are seamless, but that doesn’t necessarily make them less excellent. If you’re going to interrupt, be cool about it. Seek media refuge in environments that have your target consumer absorbed on a related topic, or in a state of mind that lends to your message. Customize your message for the media, and watch your consumer’s eye wander over to your life-enhancing interruption.

Don Q rum touted its US launch and the LadyData experiment via tiny banners on the Happy Houred iPhone app. Happy Houred is a deal-slinging operation that shows users the bar specials in their proximity. Definitely a relevant environment and mind-state, talking spirits with drink-seekers. Snippets of LadyData’s info on how to interact with the ladies in bar environments bridge the gap. Relevance!

Seamlessness! Relevance! America!

We aim to show consumers that our brand adds value to their lives. Truth is, there's a lot of advertising out there, and it’s our job to find a way to interrupt without screaming. So maybe try being helpful.

Sample metaphorical running interruption:
“Jen! You like running! Did you know that this heart rate monitor can show you when you’re about to pass your lactate threshold and cramp up?”
Actually no, I didn’t. Heart rate monitor? That would improve my life. Tell me more! Where can I get one of these? And, thank you for not throwing the ball in my face. You respect me and my time, and therefore, I respect you.

As we move into the new year, let's all challenge ourselves to interrupt with decorum. I’m going to thank you in advance for not screaming.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Four reasons why people hate Foursquare, and why they're wrong.

Note: This post was originally written as a guest-post on Adam Kmiec's blog; you can find it here, and also on the DRAFTFCBlog, here.

I love the internet. I really do. Truly, madly, deeply.

I love it for its quiet brilliance. I mean, after LOLcats, of course.

As a self-proclaimed digital kid, I am perhaps more inclined than the average bear to jump on internet bandwagons, due partly to my age, and partly to the fact that I’m such a savvy so-and-so (I kid). As such, I often find myself defending web ideas to my suspicious circle of colleagues and friends, and am always a bit surprised to have to do so. The things I find so incredible in their simplicity tend to strike my skeptical cohorts as stalker-esque, creepy fads. Can all my Foursquare haters please stand up?

For anyone who’s unaware, Foursquare is a location-based social networking community that allows users to state their coordinates and offer helpful tips to friends and other users who might also frequent that venue. Check off items on your to-do list, earn points, win badges, and become mayor of your favorite spots by checking in there more than any other patron. Fun, right?

This weekend, I found myself arguing on Foursquare’s behalf on two separate occasions. I know. I need to get a life. Anyway, both scenarios involved individuals in the advertising community, and both conversations, despite my fervent outpouring of Foursquare love, resulted only in blank stares and/or furrowed brows. What. Is up. With that.

Let’s all stop hating for a moment and contemplate what it is about Foursquare that launches it to the top of my list of quietly brilliant web innovations.

Here are the top reasons to hate on Foursquare that I’ve heard from the hater community. And, of course, the reasons I beg to differ.

1. It’s creepy.

Yes, there’s an element of weirdness to having a location feed available on the web for the masses, especially as a single female in a big city. I’m not stupid; I get that. Perhaps I will get kidnapped on the way home from my current location, and you can all have a good laugh about it (jerks). You know what? Life is creepy sometimes. And dangerous, always. This is one of those cases where I feel like the benefits outweigh the risks, so long as you’re smart about the information you share. Keep reading for more on that.

2. It’s annoying.

It's not annoying, it's information. Foursquare is a gold mine for consumer data. I really can’t believe that I would need to argue this to people in the industry. All pings, badges and tomfoolery aside, what Foursquare does, essentially, is give businesses a free list (a list! for free!) of digital-savvy consumers who love you enough to want to broadcast to their web community that they are a patron. These are people who carry a certain amount of digital clout that want to spread the word about you, and they are going to do it for free. And, you now have access to a list of them, what they think are the best parts about your business, and even some information about them (their Twitter handles, phone numbers, and so on). It’s a CRM-lover’s dream. How are you not excited about this?

3. Who cares?

You care! Especially all those ‘yous’ out there who are in the biz. Or, the business-owning ‘yous.’ Our job as marketers is to care. You care (a) what people do with their time (b) what they choose to tell their people they're doing with their time and (c) when you can put your brand in front of them at the right moment in time. Not to pontificate, but if the internet is spitting out free applications that help us to gather the data that provides a foundation for our profession, it is our responsibility to care.

[A caveat: this is not to say that no-one cares. I have seen a few cool case studies of businesses that have jumped on the Foursquare train, and are riding it to Consumer-Love Station. This post about the Pit BBQ in Raleigh, for example, truly warms my heart. Kudos to you, Pit BBQ management. Consumer interaction: you’re doing it right.]

4. Why would I want to do that?

Well, this one is really up to you. I like it because it’s a game, it’s fun to do, and it gives me a tool to coordinate nights out with friends. I also like the idea of creating a database of my existence, which is why you can find me tucking seemingly trivial information into many different data-ports around the web. It seems to matter to me. Personal preference of the digital kid, I imagine. But, fun for everyone who chooses to participate, I find.

Like I said, my romantic feelings for the internet lie mainly in its outpouring of tools that unabashedly display simple, beautiful, quiet brilliance. If nothing else, I love that I’ve been able to use applications like Foursquare to build out a community of web-adoring geeks such as myself. I simply cannot wait to see what awesomeness lies ahead for those businesses that have us geeks heading up their marketing initiatives.

For all those out there who choose to remain creeped out, annoyed, apathetic and non-participating, I apologize for wasting a moment of your time.

Thanks go to my editor, Clay, for helping to un-muddle my thoughts on this one. Virtual high-five. Thanks also to Adam, for asking me to guest-post. I'm flattered, and honored.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A book review, and a brief reflection on the science of web.

My goals for my day off were to finish the book I was reading, and to pen a new blog post. Let's kill two birds with one stone, shall we?

First, the book, whose tedious final pages went down this morning with a cup of coffee.

As a staunch Robert Langdon enthusiast and, to be quite honest, a sucker for the occasional mindless read, it pains me to say that I was pretty disappointed with the latest installment from Dan Brown. The Lost Symbol was predictable, and lacked the nail-biting, page-turny awesomeness that Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code brought to my bookshelf, and my poolside lounge chair, for that matter. Set in Washington,  D.C., around various national monuments, the plot is moderately interesting, but the cookie-cutter template more than resembles its predecessors. Without revealing any detail, the book doesn't quite live up to the hype.

Sorry, Dan Brown. I still love you. Angels and Demons FTW.

However, I wouldn't count the read as a total loss. In typical Dan Brown fashion, the story incorporates elements of a science that allows our symbologist hero to come to terms with whatever he happens to be interpreting at the time. In this case, he's tackling the Noetic Sciences, or study of the mind and intuition, and the quantifiable measurement (for real) of the energies that the mind possesses.  To quote our heroine, "We have scientifically proven that the power of human thought grows exponentially with the number of minds that share that thought."* Difficult to believe, but interesting stuff, to be sure.

And now, the post.

While Brown's character is referring to exponential growth of measurable thought energy,  her quote strikes me as a spot-on description of today's web communities, and perhaps explains some of our fascinations with the social web. With the various social communities we've adopted en masse, we have created a living experiment in the pluralistic aspects of Noetic Theory. And, by putting them on the web, we've created a permanent archive and searchable data mine of the pass-along power of human thought. We are able to quantify the effects of exponential thought-power on something as seemingly trivial as branding, via web analytics and beautiful, glorious infographics. It's what makes the interwebs webby, and frankly, interesting.

I know the Noetic stuff seems like total bunk. But, it's cool to see old-as-dirt theories and off-the-wall scientific subject matter being reflected and perfected in the technologies of the here and now. I just hope you won't think less of me for trying to pull thought-starters from the bowels of a sub-par novel.

*Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol, Doubleday, 2009, p. 504