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Marshall McLuhan: The Original Social Media Guru

December 8, 2010 2 comments

“Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.”

– Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964.

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan became the first person to popularize the concept of a global village; an interconnected world made possible by rapid advances in technology. His insights were revolutionary at the time, and laid the foundation for the way we think about media, technology, and mass communication in today’s digital age. Interestingly enough, while we have the technological means to be global, I would argue that today’s millennial consumers use these technologies more to focus on themselves as well as the local realm – and marketers and advertisers are taking notice. While today’s consumers are invested in global and philanthropic causes and do stay on top of world news, millennials are more generation “Me” and “what’s going on around me within my circle” than any other generation in history.

In certain respects, Marshall McLuhan was the original social media guru; he understood the innate human need to connect with one another and share. Today, hundreds of millions of people live a large part of their lives online, myself included. However this trend has not turned entire generations into anti-social zombies. Instead, social media and mobile communications are fueling mass-connectivity at the local level, as consumers (especially millennials) use these technologies to connect with family and friends, and learn about local happenings and events in their area. A significant portion of marketing campaigns today include a social media component to drive engagement, increase participation and create a more memorable all-around experience — again, “global village” enabling technologies for local activation.

Consider Groupon Inc., a Chicago-based Internet-coupon service. The company was founded in 2008 and in merely two years, has accumulated more than 35 million users in >300 markets worldwide. The site offers consumers the opportunity to purchase unique products and/or services in their local area at a discount rate. The company has done extremely well because: A) consumers enjoy partaking in social activities such as social-commerce, purchasing products and services as a group B) Groupon’s local offerings are relevant and actionable.

Looking ahead to the New Year, I look forward to the launch of new technologies, websites, and applications and the ways in which marketers/advertisers will harness these mass-communication technologies to promote socializing within one’s extended network in the local sphere.

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Millennials are Looking for the “Shop-erience” this Holiday Season

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m a millennial and I like to shop, both on- and offline. Of course, marketers and advertisers already know this simple fact. They also know that I have attended university and am just starting out my career, live in an urban-setting with a moderate household income, like to feel good about donating to philanthropic causes, and spend a large amount of time pilfering away on social networking sites. However, do marketers really know why I like to shop? It’s all about the experience.

Over this last week, I came across not one – but two – unique shopping experiences that provided value above-and-beyond the traditional mall excursion or product search online. Last week, Google launched Boutiques.com, a “personalized shopping experience that lets you find and discover fashion goods through a collection of boutiques curated by taste-makers – celebrities, stylists, designers, and fashion bloggers.” The website is built with technology-software that “learns” about your style and trend preferences to be able to provide more relevant search results and recommendations over time. The user has the option to create their own boutique, share outfit ideas with friends, leave comments for other fashionistas, and source similar looks within a variety of price ranges.

Prior to the launch of Boutiques.com, online shopping could seem like a chore. This is not to say that Google completely revolutionized the online shopping realm; rather the search giant combined the search for and purchasing activities into one, cohesive website. Everyone wins: retailers are able to advertise their products directly to consumers and shoppers have all the necessary tools at their fingertips to stay ahead of the fashion-game. The experience is convenient, easy, and customizable and as a millennial, I appreciate that.

My second shopping example is more experiential in the traditional sense, bringing the high-brow fashion of Cynthia Rowley to neighborhoods throughout the United States via mobile boutique. The fashion truck contains Rowley’s entire fall 2010 collection, as well as select pieces from her spring and summer lines. Shoppers have the opportunity to learn of the truck’s whereabouts via a live Twitter feed, and can visit the “shop on wheels” in their local market for a fun, fashion splurge. With a limited number of stores across the US, the Cynthia Rowley mobile boutique provides shoppers with the opportunity to experience the look-and-feel of the brand. The experience is fun, conversational, and out-of-the-ordinary enhancing the brand image and positive associations in the minds of consumers.

As the holiday shopping season is fast-approaching and I’m looking to buy gifts for family and friends –and to take advantage of those sales to update my own winter wardrobe – I will be looking for the brands that provide an engaging and memorable shopping experience. I hypothesize that these brands will come out on top in the New Year.  After all, it’s all about the “shop-erience.”

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The Ultimate Brand Experience: Engagement and Interaction in Another Level of Reality

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

As marketers, we are constantly brainstorming ways to create the ultimate brand experience; an experience that is highly engaging, often times interactive, and extremely memorable in the minds of consumers. From experiential, live event activations to social media gaming to branded entertainment, as marketers we focus on creating this memorable brand experience for consumers. While I was reading my daily dose of AdAge, I was surprised to learn about a new, non-traditional method of reaching the millennial segment: interactive product-placement (see Ford, Sprint, Snickers Get With the Crowd for ‘ControlTV’).  Relinquishing control of their marketing message to consumers, brands such as Ford, Sprint, and Snickers are embracing our obsession with crowdsourcing and reality TV to allow us to have an authentic experience with the brand, before we even buy it.

ControlTV” is a reality TV series produced by actor Seth Green, Matthew Senrich and Richard Saperstein which chronicles six weeks in the life of aspiring stock trader, Tristan Couvares. With the help of the social media tool – crowdsourcing – consumers can actively participate in determining Mr. Couvares’ every move. A camera follows Mr. Couvares attentively, live broadcasting his every move. In its first two weeks after release, “ControlTV” received more than 3 million completed views on the DBG Video Network, with interaction rates as high as 7% on some players. For comparison, previous DBG web series have acquired as many as 50-60 million views for advertisers such as Hewlett-Packard and Diet Coke.

Sounding a little bit (or a lot) like The Truman Show? Yes, except for the trio of sponsors who’ve recognized this as an opportunity for a new type of product placement: Ford provided a 2011 Ford Fiesta for Mr. Couvares to drive, Sprint Nextel gave him an HTC EVO 4G phone, and Mars’ Snickers just happens to be his occasional snack of choice. Unlike The Truman Show in which the consumer is a passive viewer, Control TV is all about an interactive collaboration between the consumer, Mr. Couvares, and his brand friends. As the AdAge article suggests, this show takes product-placement to the next level: not only is it interactive but it’s seemingly transparent as if it were reality. Consumers may feel that Mr. Couvares is using the product in a very real way when in actuality, he is acting out consumers’ desires and demands.

This article left me thinking about what classifies a brand experience for today’s consumer? Is it a lived experience or a virtual hyper-reality – and which of the two has greater impact on your brand’s performance and bottom-line?

 

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The Power of the Twitterverse

October 18, 2010 1 comment

Evidence that customers own the brand… or at least the logo.

Last week, GAP Inc. released a new version of its logo on its website. The logo redesign lasted a mere four days, before company executives made the business decision to return to the tried-and-true blue box. The new logo, created by New York agency Laird & Partners, was meant to contemporize the brand and appeal to the retailer’s target Millennial consumer.

GAP fans were quick to respond to the logo change, starting Facebook groups and Twitter handles as a forum to share their discontent with fellow-minded consumers. While some of consumers’ anger stemmed from the sudden change, others voiced a changed perception of the GAP brand based on the simplicity – and juvenile – design.

When a fashion company such as GAP suddenly redesigns its logo, it risks alienating its loyal customer base. These brand loyalists may interpret the redesigned logo as altering the meaning and/or associations they have of the brand. While a brand’s logo is the most dominant feature of the brand’s aesthetic, there are numerous components beyond design elements that construct a brand identity in the mind of the consumer – many of these are experiential, based on a consumer’s personal relationship with the brand that’s developed over time.

In today’s digital world where consumers are increasingly involved – and engaged – with brands online, I question how GAP Inc. made it so far along in the logo redesign process without communicating to, or measuring the impact of, this change on consumers’ perceptions and feelings towards the brand. In the case of GAP’s logo redesign, the fashion company could have saved itself embarrassment by engaging its customers in dialog about its new direction before actually making the change public. In a way, it’s ironic that the communication channel that consumers used to make the new logo extinct could have been used to engage consumers and drive the company in a positive, new direction.

I’m left wondering whether GAP learned any valuable lessons from this fiasco. Perhaps in the future, the fashion retailer will ask its customers for their opinion before making drastic changes. My hunch is that if these customers care enough to voice their opinions loud-and-clear about a logo, they’ll want to be involved with the growth (and evolution) of the company into the future. Most marketers know that brand management is all about listening to your customers – because in essence, it’s your customers that own the brand! Right, GAP?

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