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Starbucks Dabbles with Corporate Democracy

In a piece for Business Week Jeff Jarvis, author of BuzzMachine (among other things), profiles Starbucks’s concept — an initiative Jeff calls a foray into corporate democracy. The site allows Starbucks customers to offer advice on improving its customer service, products or business practices. Starbucks (the retail chain) benefits from good ideas it may soon implement, and Starbucks (the brand) benefits by connecting with customers at higher, more emotional level — through a conversation in which customers have a voice, and Starbucks listens and responds.

“‘If [an idea] fails,” says [Starbucks CTO] Bruzzo, “our customers who are on MyStarbucksIdea ought to participate in being accountable for it.’ Whether an idea is accepted or not, customers get only the satisfaction of participating; there are no payments or other tangible rewards.”

What an excellent example of a brand-as-conversation, or what we at FM call (and Jeff often criticizes!) conversational marketing.

Starbucks Splash Stick

Ad Sales People: An Endangered Species?

That’s the prediction at PaidContent, anyway.

“The self-serve ads option has been all the rage for search ads the last few years. Increasingly, now, do-it-yourself is becoming similarly popular for the display ad space.”

I don’t think ad-sales extinction is quite as imminent as reported. “Display ads” in print magazines refer to the glossy ads purchased by brand advertisers to accomplish brand-building goals. When pundits use the term online, they mean graphical banner ads, as opposed to paid-search text ads. Most advertisers, however, are using graphical banners and text ads for the same purpose — direct-response marketing with the singular goal of driving clicks at the lowest CPC. Only a very small percentage of online ad dollars today are designed to build awareness and affinity for brands. I’m a big believer in the promise of DIY ad-buying platforms, but it’s a mistake to assume these services — just because their customers can upload animated banners — are changing the rules, the expectations or the metrics for brand marketing.

David Sedaris on Expressing Identity Through the Brands We Choose

From the New Yorker:

“I felt that in the name of individuality I should find my own brand, something separate. Something me. Carltons, Kents, Alpines: it was like choosing a religion, for weren’t Vantage people fundamentally different from those who’d taken to Larks or Newports? What I didn’t realize was that you could convert, that you were allowed to. The Kent person could, with very little effort, become a Vantage person, though it was harder to go from menthol to regular, or from regular-sized to ultra-long. All rules had their exceptions, but the way I came to see things they generally went like this: Kools and Newports were for black people and lower-class whites. Camels were for procrastinators, those who wrote bad poetry, and those who put off writing bad poetry. Merits were for sex addicts, Salems for alcoholics, and Mores for people who considered themselves to be outrageous but really weren’t. One should never lend money to a Marlboro-menthol smoker, though you could usually count on a regular-Marlboro person to pay you back. The eventual subclasses of milds, lights, and ultra-lights not only threw a wrench in the works but made it nearly impossible for anyone to keep your brand straight. All that, however, came later, along with warning labels and American Spirits.

“The cigarettes I bought that day in Vancouver were Viceroys. I’d often noticed them in the shirt pockets of gas-station attendants and, no doubt, thought that they’d make me appear masculine, or at least as masculine as one could look in a beret and a pair of gabardine pants that buttoned at the ankle. Throw in Ronnie’s white silk scarf and I needed all the Viceroy I could get, especially in the neighborhood where this residence hotel was.”

Viceroy Cigarettes

Dell's Embed-able, Subscribe-able, Share-able Video Is Working

I took a look at interaction rates and other early data on Dell’s embed-able, subscribe-able, share-able video ad (it launched about two weeks ago), and saw something obvious, but something our industry too often forgets. It’s inevitably a teeny tiny fraction of people exposed to your ad who will click on it — we are thrilled with 0.2% — yet that’s the group we spend most of our energy thinking about, optimizing for, zooming in on.

In this campaign Dell opened the aperture; it built a creative unit — a brand asset — intended to provide value to more than that tenth or two-tenths of one percent of an audience inclined to click on banner. The ad pushed content to Dell’s audience (and let audience members interact with the content right there), rather than attempting to pull that audience back to Dell’s site for some kind of pay-off.

I can’t give away trade secrets or actual performance data. But I will say that some average and tiny percentage of people clicked on the ad. Eighteen TIMES more people took advantage of the opportunity to interact with Dell’s brand and content right there in the ad itself. Imagine the lost opportunity had Dell built an ad that only worked for that tiny click-happy group.

HP's Branding Bootcamp

The printing and imaging group at HP has launched a new section of its wiki, Branding Bootcamp.

HP’s Branding Bootcamp

We — HP and this Community — will work to provide the answers, guidance, resources and camaraderie to help you develop the marketing materials you and your business need to succeed – without breaking the bank?

My first thought, What self-respecting control-freak business owner or brand manager would let an anonymous community crowd-source his or her brand materials? And then, I thought, genius. Intuit founder Scott Cook once said a brand is what a friend tells a friend about it, so why not let them — friends, partners and random people who care enough to provide input — build your brand materials from the get-go?

Why You Need to Pay Attention to the Social Media Buzz

Your customers are 3 times more likely to trust opinions from their peers than advertising messages from you, according to Jupiter data published at eMarketer. This isn’t new, of course. Peers have always been our most trusted resource for buying information. Only now — in this conversational media world — we can track all those watercooler conversations about our brands.

eMarketer: Peers over Ads

Publishers Expand High-End Marketing Services Online; Where Do Ad Networks Fit In?

From yesterday’s WSJ in an article about traditional publishers acquiring web services platforms like Conde Nast’s acquisition of FM alum Reddit.

“Usually when publishers acquire technology companies it’s to spruce up their own Web sites. But increasingly publishers such as Conde Nast and Meredith are drawing on the technology to create advertising campaigns for marketers.

“This takes publishers further into the realm of marketing services. Instead of simply selling marketers ad space, they’re rolling up their sleeves and designing the promotions as well. For the next five months, visitors to the Dillard’s Web site will be able to rank products featured in a top-10 list selected by Conde Nast’s Lucky magazine and fashion Web site The fashion lists will rotate seasonally, giving visitors the chance to rank new items every two weeks. The top-rated item on the list then will appear in Dillard’s online ads running on nine Conde Nast Web sites, including Teen Vogue, Glamour, and Vanity Fair.”

Smart. Also not surprising. High-end offline media companies have always had staff and production capabilities to provide marketing services well beyond trafficking and inserting commercials. This is part of what drives premium rates at leading media brands. Advertisers expect their media partners to do more than cash their checks; they demand that their media partners help them succeed among an audience that the media companies know best.

This is why I was confused by news that ESPN has discontinued working with ad networks. I get it that ad networks cause pricing and channel conflict because — despite promising publishers like ESPN to sell their remnant inventory in a blind manner, as part of a “channel” — they sometimes pitch site-specific opportunities. They offer lower rates for the same banners ESPN sells directly. This is a partnership problem, a serious one, but one that should be addressed with tactics short of termination. It’s not religious problem, as ESPN and others have portrayed it. From Mediaweek:

“ESPN’s decision crystallizes a philosophical debate in the online ad sales industry that has intensified since the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual meeting last month when during a keynote address, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia media president Wenda Harris Millard gave her now famous warning against selling Web inventory like ‘pork bellies.’”

My interpretation of Wenda Harris Millard’s pork-bellies battle cry is this. Digital publishers need to remember that they are publishers — companies that engage with high-quality audiences around content in a unique and magical conversation, and service firms that know how to chaperon marketing brands into those conversations. In other words, companies in the mold of Conde Nast, Meredith and ESPN that offer high-touch marketing services.

Whatever ad avails you don’t sell, offer up on the pork-belly exchanges — online we call them ad networks (or Google Adsense), in TV we call them PI or DR rep firms. Hey, people sometimes want pork bellies, and audiences almost certainly don’t want 30-seconds of white static whenever a TV network fails to sell 100% of spots.

But if you don’t or can’t articulate what it is that makes your media brand uniquely valuable to your marketing partners (hint: it’s not your demographics), you’ve ceased to be publisher.

More on the difference between publishers and ad networks from Battelle.

Battelle on Media Brands and How They Earn Their High CPMs

Great thought piece at Searchblog on the value of branded media online.

“Why is it that a brand marketer looking to reach college educated women, 18-34, is willing to pay $40 CPMs in Vanity Fair, but just $3 in an ad network?

“The first and most important reason is engagement — the reader of Vanity Fair is engaged in the magazine, and when she comes across that Lancome ad, the chances that the ‘between the ears magic’ will occur is far greater than at a random site run by an ad network. The second and related reason is creative — a two-page spread is simply a far more effective media vehicle for the brand’s message than the IAB unit.”

Overcoming these two hurdles comes down one thing: Marketers need to think like publishers. Publishers — a term I’m using here to include the creators of magazines, newspaper, websites and TV programming — are deeply committed to converting first-time trial readers or viewers into loyal subscribers or appointment-TV watchers; it costs far too much money buying audience, carriage and circulation (not to mention producing the content) to survive any other way. They must engage that audience. Marketers, meanwhile, recognize that it’s a waste of money to advertise with media properties that haven’t created engagement.

Marketers are also wasting money if they place advertising in high-engagement environments yet fail to provide creative that likewise engages the audience. The best TV commercials from the past six decades are 30-second and 60-second films that have overcome their miniature running times with brilliantly-crafted narrative arcs, evocative performances, catchy music and captivating cinematography. In other words, with filmed content. The creative units attached to online ad campaigns must move beyond call-to-action blinking banners. They need to become portals into content experiences that rival the great content at the best media sites.

Battelle, ESPN: The Trouble With Ad Networks

Battelle takes a deep look at the difference between media companies and ad networks at Searchblog, and how the big online portals are confusing the two.

“Do we [in the media business] sell inventory to the highest bidder via algorithms, automated processes, and platforms? Or do partner with marketers and creators of media to build brands – both media brands, and consumer marketing brands?

“I know how the folks who no longer work at AOL, Yahoo, or MSN feel about this question. They’re all brand people. And it’s entirely clear how the Google-chasers have answered that question: They’ve collectively spent billions of dollars amassing ‘access to inventory’ and ‘ad platforms’ in single-minded competition with Google.

“It seems the future, according to AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft, is in ad networks.”

Meanwhile, one of the top brands in quality content and marketing relationships with global brands, ESPN is severing ties with ad networks:

“The sites like ESPN have cut ties with Specific Media and several other ad networks saying that ad selling that relies heavily on arbitrage and algorithms is not for them. ‘We’re heading down a path where it no longer suits our business needs to work with ad networks,’ said Eric Johnson, Vice President, Multimedia Sales, ESPN.”

Jeremiah Owyang, MediaPost Cover Dell's Facebook Graffiti Contest

Jeremiah Owyang, at his site, writes up a case study of Dell’s Facebook Graffiti Contest, part of its ReGeneration campaign. His “what could have been better” section — that conversational campaigns should be given longer life spans, and that the content they produce should be given more exposure too — is worth a full read at his site. His summary of the campaign overall:

“Unlike most marketing campaigns that deploy heavy ads, fake viral videos, or message bombardment, this campaign let go to gain more. Overall, this is a successful campaign as they turned the action over to the community, let them take charge, decide on the winners, all under the context of the regeneration campaign. The campaign moved the active community from Facebook closer to the branded Microsite, closer to the corporate website, migrating users in an opt-in manner that lead to hundreds of comments was clever. Well done.”

And MediaPost’s Social Media Insider blog says:

“There are a lot of impressive stats here: 1.1 million people voted on their favorite illustration, 7,300 people entered a submission, the contest has almost 1,300 friends, and there are currently 209 comments to the post at announcing the winners. Clearly, Dell’s ReGeneration effort supports [FM CEO John] Battelle’s contention that social media may finally make online advertising much more interesting to users than the ongoing crop of forgettable banner campaigns.”