Tag Archives: Digital

Digital Upgrade At Your Own Risk – Brand Be Damned!

It seems that many apps and digital offerings have been updated since the beginning of the year – and an interesting trend has taken shape. What once was so wonderfully free – with few ad breaks and just slightly more privacy – has turned the corner and has become, well… less. Additionally, a huge sector of mobile users that excitedly upgraded to Android 4.3 before the end of the year have only further lamented the multitude of issues they’ve encountered since (with battery life reducing drastically being a consistent theme).  All of this leads to the question – To Upgrade or Not To Upgrade?  Unfortunately, in many instances, the consumer never gets the chance to question and the brand is damned to stumble.


The gray area is meant to have content served within.


In the case of ESPN, they chose to re-brand their scores and news app to be more aligned with their colossal SportsCenter brand – changing it from Scorecenter to SportsCenter. That change makes sense – as does the twitter feed from their on-air personalities.  What’s more challenging is that the app is much more volatile (see above) with nothing showing much of the time.  Even more annoying is the fact that users now have to log in or register in order to automatically keep track of their favorite teams. For most, this might not be an issue, but for those trying to hold on to the last piece of privacy, that component might be a deal breaker. The fact that there’s now far more advertising with page overlays and in-feed ads only adds salt to the wound.

Diminished revenue generation is definitely an issue for all content providers, but it will be interesting to see how conversion plays out as more and more previously free apps move into the paid model. Since the new year, at least 4 of my news apps have moved behind a paywall – with only headlines available for free – rendering it useless. Hopefully, we’ll soon see the ramifications – one way or the other – on this change soon. We’ll definitely see if people have an appetite for paying in multiple places for content.

Even in the free realm, questionable choices have been made:

  • ABC force upgraded the app leaving users with a lot less content choices and a lot more ill will. Checking the ratings on the App Store and Google Play shows a very large distaste for something that was the standard bearer for innovative video presentation. With the previous usage and inability to skip through commercials, it made sense.  Who knows what will happen now.
  • Yahoo! changed their mobile product to supposedly simplify their content delivery. The only problem is that the UI leads one to believe that if they click on search, they’ll be able to search within the category (i.e.,Entertainment, Sports, Life), only to find that it takes them out of the app environment and to their general search interface.
  • Sporting News is struggling to keep from crashing as they deal with issues stemming from iOS 7 in their newest update. The fix might come with the supposed release of iOS 7.1 in March, but that brings us to the next issue.

With all of the concerns users have with upgrading already – and the worries of what they will have to learn or not have access to – is the update to iOS 7.1 or Android’s 4.4 KitKat one that people will venture into widely or quickly?  Microsoft is having it’s own issues getting consumers to upgrade Windows OS – especially as people realized how much was still left to be done with each release. Is the same lack of concern for the user experience – and the interest of meeting ambiguous deadlines worthwhile for consumers who are quick to pull the trigger and move elsewhere? A concern is that, among developers, there is an excuse permeating that everyone expects issues. How sad is that?

The debate can continue as to whether it’s human nature to always want the new bright and shiny object. But, it is pretty clear cut that when forced to the new, something good should be delivered.  If companies/brands keep forcing the issue, they might be damned to losing the loyalty of those who just want to keep interacting the way they always have.

Tools For Maintaining The Brand Heat

One of the challenges any Marketing (and specifically the digital team) run into is the education of the entire staff about what’s new and exciting.  It’s even more challenging to move beyond the listing and explanation of platforms to how the brand is meant to utilize each. The Campbell’s soup team is getting some press for distributing its own “survival kit” for all things digital. The question remains whether it will be more than corporate subsidized access to digital content and platforms and actually convey specifically how the tools are used by the brand and benefit the company’s bottom line.

In a package that seemingly was built by the relatively new social agency, SocialDeviant on behalf of Campbell’s Head of Digital and Social, Adam Kmiec, a good amount of “stuff” to provide digital literacy to its staff. He even goes into further detail about the Digital Fitness Accelerator Kit on his blog.  What we may never see, but is suggested should be a guide that not only explains what these pieces do, but also some ideas about how they might be utilized in the extension of Campbell’s brand.

The stated reason for producing these kits – regardless of recipient – is to enable employees to have a deeper understanding of developments within the white-hot technology development space.  But, as that pace is so quick and the staff can be at different levels of digital proficiency, they would be best served by conveying theories, methodologies and strategies that can leverage marketing technology and platforms to ensure they are able to deftly maintain the heat around their brand.

Leaders Of Media Will Get It And The Rest Will Be Pushing Buttons

Over the past couple of days, there’s been many good panels taking place at the Spring Digital Hollywood conference in Marina del Rey. I believe I heard the conference’s organizer, Victor Harwood, mention that there were over 600 participants through around five or six concurrent program lines (such as the Variety Entertainment and Technology, Connected TV – Hollywood Alliance, Content, and Urban Media summits.) There are more than plenty of sessions that could be taken in over the course of four days.  For the most part, I made it a point to check out the sessions on media/advertising – in gaming, online video and regular video inventory – and a couple of things became abundantly clear.  The major point to me is that there are many people who are focusing on the mechanics of how to pull off campaigns and not enough people who are developing media rollouts for a holistic and strategic point of view.  As more and more functions of the media business become automated, there will be a clearer delineation between those who get it and those who are just pushing buttons.

At these types of conferences, the best use of time is when there’s open discussion and even debate among the panelists.  Those times have come up a bit – and they are interesting more often than not – but there’s been a greater amount of timidity (or too much manners) on many of the panels.  In each case, the more excitement and engagement came when the audience (or strong-willed panelists) pushed the needle and added some spirit.  It forced the panelists to get beyond their surface comments and dig deeper into the hows and whats about what they were describing.  In those moments, you could begin to see the separation between the ideals and themes that will elevate further in the future and those that won’t.

Those who looked at issues of media from a holistic and strategic level that went beyond straight demos and display started to get into why a different way of thinking is required in order to excel in the digital space.  The times of planners being able to do the status quo and/or think of media in terms of how it has been thought of for decades is becoming the past.  Certainly, I’m not talking about a wholesale change.  But, if you consider the fact that exchanges for the purchasing of inventory will be automated in such a way as to emulate the financial trading systems (or exchanges) currently on Wall St, then you’ll see that there will be much more reliance on smart and nimble executives than on the “plaster the world with RFPs” mentality that is currently so common. Roger Wood , of iCrossing, talked about this in a session yesterday and Cory Treffiletti focused a bit on it in his column today.

The people we are trying to reach and the platforms on which to reach them are fragmenting so quickly that its sometimes hard to get a handle on it – much less convey the intricacies to the C-level – with the benefits and drawbacks to that fragmentation sometimes showing itself on the same side of a coin. On top of that, you figure in elements relating to social – and the opportunities become exponential. It is those who are smart about the ways to reach and engage that will stand out. Those who rely on gross numbers alone might tread water, but those who understand that managing those gross numbers AND finding ways to expand reach through intelligent execution, innovation and sound strategy will be swimming laps around the competition.

Even the establishment for what constitutes a campaign’s success continues to grow in the way of measurement options and their varying forms. While the KPIs may have been simpler or more clearly defined and consistent across campaigns, there are many more nuances to take into consideration from one campaign to another. It will require a much more strategic mind to qualify and quantify the milestones you are looking for – as opposed to just setting an impression threshold. That in itself is what will separate the opportunities in digital from what was the norm in the past.

While the mechanics are an important part of any product – whether it be a media campaign or a gizmo sold in Walmart – the overall vision is what separates ho-hum from solid or even spectacular. Those who get that, either on the client or agency side will be the ones to excel while the others will be simply going though the motions – and the differentiation will be absolutely clear.

Enough With The “Build It And They Will Come” Mantra!

With the winding down of the Digital Content NewFront (DCNF), one thing is clear – there is a lot of compelling video content.  The question remains – will enough people find it? Online/Mobile video providers are not the only ones confronting this dilemma. A multitude of options are available for audiences of all shapes, sizes, colors, etc. and that hasn’t changed – other than just getting larger by the day. While TV content providers had to go through a phase of dwindling audiences and learning to be able to deal with it, publishers of digital content never had anything but a diverse, wide and scattered environment with which to service. Those in the space always knew that while we could track more information and produce content more inexpensively – but it would be hitting fewer people than the broadcasters and many cablecasters were.  That scale was the first challenge that I think we have collectively gotten over.  Perhaps the biggest hurdle moving forward is the limited perspective usually found in dealing with everything surrounding the actual content creation and the driving of eyeballs to content. It was kind of understandable why many people thought they could build something cool, slap it up on the web and generate some traffic or buzz back in the day.  Before Social Media came on, that was certainly easier – not always completely effective, but more effective than it is now. Today, while many marketers talk about the need for Social integration with their brands and their digital marketing products, its frustrating to witness how many people are still mired in the ideal of “Build it and they will come.”

We see many instances of digital products that take off and generate buzz in a timely fashion, but only tick off one or two boxes out of the five that they could have hit if planned and produced fully across all channels and divisions. Many success stories are achieved almost by accident and many marketers jump on to take a part in its glory. It should no longer be acceptable for a marketing team or vendor to engage on a project based solely on a cool idea if they do not have an executable plan for reaching the right audience.  When setting KPIs or projecting ROI without a clearly defined smart distribution/seeding plan, you’re working in a “fingers crossed” capacity.  Some feel that by creating something cool and putting media behind it, they will be successful.  They will probably be more successful than if they just placed the marketing product in the digital realm, but it’s still not as strong as it can be.  And, that’s why strategy goes beyond any individual campaign and looks to leverage all existing distribution/seeding outlets.

Bringing it back to DCNF, Google/YouTube is the last presentation and will be touting the deeper opportunities with channels – where users can delineate what they are most interested in and have those videos come up in quasi-curated groupings. This might make things a little easier – especially on the video platform that serves up 3 billion hours of video a month. But, for the content creator and any advertisers who are paying for product inclusion within the content, there still needs to be some sort of engagement that actually drives the eyeballs to the content.

While it was nice to see some interesting content presented during DCNF, there’s still a huge lack of compelling discussion of how users will be drawn specifically to this content.  If they are just relying on the conceit that viewers are organically drawn to the affinity channels they most associate with, then they’ve had their eyes closed for a while.  On television, there are MANY channels that I have an affinity for. Yet, there are maybe 15 channels that I will flip through when not watching something in the DVR. Studies have shown that I’m not alone.  So affinity alone does not hold too much water when discussing the introduction of new shows and the generation of viewers.

Moving away from video and focusing on digital marketing products, it’s the same thing. A close friend of mine, Jo Oskoui, told me about an experiment his team just completed that speaks directly to this dilemma.  His company, Oskoui+Oskoui, will be publishing a study that delves deeper into the specifics, but the gist is that they had produced a piece of content and originally posted it only on their blog.  They posted the piece in Q3 2011 when there was a lot of buzz about the related product – a product with a huge cultural value that happened to have a major consumer product release at the time. Their blog gets decent traffic for a blog of that type, but they wanted a limited posting and then see what happened. The basic creative element got less than 50,000 views since posting on their blog – OK but not much.  More than six months later, they completed their experiment by engaging their proprietary social distribution and seeding network to distribute the same exact piece of content and were able to garner over 3 million views with a high rate of re-posting in only one week.

This exemplifies the importance of having a whole plan surrounding any digital marketing product launch. There is too much happening in the digital realm – without even get into the today’s crazy buzz about George Zimmerman’s legal defense team launching a site and social media outlets – nobody can rely on just placing content in the digital realm and expect people to find it.

The good news is that there are many cost-effective options for creating that holistic marketing execution. In fact, I would push vendors to not only come up with the creative idea, but the sound executable plan for generating the distribution that’s required to make a difference (and establish the parameters of success.)  Many companies already engage separate vendors to do creative production, social strategies and implementation, and publicity, but they don’t do a great job of keeping every group up-to-speed – leading to less effective campaigns and wastes of money. So, even if the creative agency isn’t a one-stop shop, that doesn’t preclude the marketing team from engaging all groups internally and externally to set the stage for a whole campaign.

We know that we won’t strike gold every time, but we’ll certainly do better if we go out with a smart strategy and ensure that the strategy and products are communicated across all parts of the company – not just putting content out there and crossing our fingers that people will find it.   FIELD OF DREAMS is a fictional story and we know that the famous line,”Build it and they will come”is just a piece of dialog – we just need to act like we know that when launching our campaigns.

ESPN Can Second-Screen My Life!

As part of an article about the possibility for networks co-opting event rights – like NBC’s Olympic coverage this Summer – without paying a penny, ESPN’s EVP of multimedia sales told Adweek, “We want to see ESPN as a second screen for all sports. We know we have a lot of companion [mobile] usage even when it’s not our event. We want to take co-viewing to the next level.” ESPN may be one of the brands that are best positioned to move beyond just the games they air when it comes to second-screen apps. I would even go one step further… They should expand their definition of second-screen to include all live sporting events – whether you are watching the show on their networks, other networks and, most importantly, if you are physically at the games. This would align with my feeling that the best branded solution for second-screen apps is to focus on affinity groups rather than broad networks or shows.  By doing this, second-screen apps can best complement life and not just viewing habits.

I know this is a little “ideal” or “out there”, but imagine if ESPN was to focus on building that environment that extends the experience of “being there” to all viewers and building bonds in the real world between people who are all at the same event. What if there were special check-ins for people who are physically at the games – or if it automatically tracked whether users were at a venue or not and framed their comments in such a way that they could be found more easily. They can post bits about what they’re seeing in the venue and allow those at home to feel even more connected to the game. This can be done in association with ESPN’s already popular GameCast feature – building out a whole new feel for the game.

Courtesy of Adweek

Though the Adweek article was focused on television and rights, it did get me thinking about the possibilities for second-screen apps that deep dive into themes that matter to affinity groups. There are those brands that could work best to serve those affinity groups in all parts of life – as a second-screen. ESPN is obvious for sports, but could Bravo be the second-screen app for all things Arts – with check-ins and instant reviews from cultural facilities?  Could Food Network be the same for both restaurants and grocery stores? How about E! or Style for nightlife.  In all of these instances, there could be a great opportunity to enable connections in real-life that also feed into our digital lives.

To a certain degree, Facebook is a second-screen App to our lives.  But I think it is too broad. Narrowing down our second-screen-life Apps to the affinity groups (Sports, Culture, Food, Partying, Outdoors, Crafts, etc.) and anchoring them to the large niche cable networks could be just the ticket. If a brand is already developing a companion app, and the cost of including some location-based functionality is incremental, doesn’t it make sense to reach for greater inclusion, interaction and engagement?

Maybe I’m thinking too much in the clouds, but I really don’t think this is too far off.  Even from a sports perspective, there was a time when the new sports venues were installing systems to provide real-time stats at your seat.  Obviously, that went by the wayside when mobile Apps came on the market that could do the same thing.  There is obviously a demand for it in that engagement model.

If the right branding partners are leveraged, it could mean quicker and simpler access by people no matter where they are and what they are watching. Rather than a whole bunch of Apps that are specific to certain locations, requiring people to download a bunch of occasionally used Apps, those brands with the penetration should look to really run the gamut and make their Apps whole for the affinity groups that would most use them.

At that point, we’ll be talking about Second-Screens for our lives – whatever that life may be…

Consumers Connections as the Metric To Rule Them All – But What Is It?

Yet another iMedia Summit has come and gone and I think they did a really nice job.  This one was the Video Summit and there was more than enough in the way of presentation and provocation to push the conversations along about media and digital video content. Shelley Palmer was the chief instigator as he pushed for people to think and make choices one way or the other about how this is all going to work – sometimes he pushed too hard, but his insights were welcome throughout.  It seemed clear that the biggest hurdle for all players – traditional media planners, digital media planners, publishers, brands, technologists and developers – is the navigation from where we are in the way of monetizing digital video content to where we think it can be.  What exacerbates the challenge is the never-ending search for the metric that clearly works for both television and digital distribution. With that search, the problem remains that powerful storytelling and true connections with consumers is oft skipped over by technologies and program mechanics – leaving everyone questioning what metric will rule them all.

Jen Dawson (TubeMogul), Felix Gomez (Pointroll), Jonathan Tavss (Scarlet Strategic)

iMedia tried something new this time by offering a track specifically for creatives and production companies to explore the tricks of the trade and, countered against the media-heavy elements of the rest of the summit, the creative samples were refreshing.  Though there could have stood to be more creative attendees, it was a strong first-go. I do wish that there was more interplay between creatives and planners as way to extend the conversation about what the possibilities may be. It ended up feeling like the creatives were excluded at a certain point and that was a shame – especially as one of the presentations in the In-Focus track showcased a strong partnership between Moxie’s media and creative teams worked closely to produce a very compelling campaign for Verizon.  Showcasing that stuff to everyone could have gotten the juices flowing about solutions other than what planners already know and the tendency to stick with that known commodity.

Both Palmer and Intel’s Futurist, Brian David Johnson beseeched everyone to envision a great future and make it happen. I agree whole-heartedly with what they said, but opportunities to get the imagination going could have been done through programming that led to more sharing and problem solving.  Whether it was by way of presenting some of the In-Focus track sections to the entire community or programming round-table sessions –like what iMedia has done at their Breakthrough summits in the past — people could have been prodded more completely to be creative and then see where that lead us.

But, in the end, the fact that there is an environment where people can share thoughts and ideas without too much preening or jockeying within a social context, these iMedia Summits are invaluable.  Hopefully, they will continue to grow and evolve.  As this was the first Video-specific summit, I look forward to seeing the evolution of both the medium and its programming in the future.  It can’t do anything but further itself into the conversation as the powers that be are pushing digital content further into the stratosphere that is usually reserved for television.

I’ve already conveyed my concerns about not staking digital as strong and specific, yet different beast and present it as such to the media community – and I brought it up at the conference as well. But, we can all hope that the similarities and differences are carefully and clearly communicated and understood by the influencers and the decision makers. Again, the type of interaction and communication that is offered at these summits can go a long way toward that becoming a reality.

The Frugal Gourmet of Marketing for HUNGER GAMES

In case you didn’t know, the much-anticipated film, THE HUNGER GAMES, opens today. And the buzz is not just about the film but how well its been marketed at a reported cost that is less than half of the recent blockbusters. Though Jeff Smith (of Frugal Gourmet cookbook and cooking show fame) had nothing to do with it – he sadly passed away four years before the source material was ever written – the smart and to-the-point marketing of the film is spot on and wasn’t done by accident.

To those who are not YA (young adults), the story is reminiscent of the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, THE RUNNING MAN.  In both instances, the contestants are meant to fight for their survival live before a television audience. The thing that THE HUNGER GAMES has behind it is a 25 million copies-and-counting series of books that has become a phenomenon in less than four years.

The mention of Jeff Smith and his PBS TV show are also a nod to the old-school film marketing that was done for this title.  Smith was around before the food channels on cable and had to carve out a space with compelling story and press. Lionsgate got it right at the beginning when they made a big to-do about the casting announcement of the heroine, Katniss Everdeen and the other main characters.  They knew they did a solid job of casting talent, so it was cool to allow the buzz and arguments to take place across the web. Could they have known how well the acting would be reviewed when the film was released?  Of course not, but the social media action more than paid for itself.

Before we even got close to the release, they were focused on story and environment.  Even in their one-sheets, they recognized that it’s all about character and not big explosions or other stereotypical key art executions for this target audience.  By doing this, it stayed true to its core for fans and did not turn off larger audiences.  To be honest, the interest grown by the stately  marketing from the get-go makes it easier to palate the silly looking wig that Stanley Tucci’s character wears when seeing it in a clip Jennifer Lawrence showed on Letterman.

Looking at the other elements, they are releasing a soundtrack with all new material from big-name artists on Universal Records.  There’s a new music video out from Taylor Swift for the film’s “Safe & Sound.” They have a huge base on Facebook and and hundreds of thousands following @TheHungerGames on Twitter. Their web site presence is also huge with exploratory sites and introductions to the fictional country of Panem. There’s plenty of clips and interviews that convey the characters and what went into drawing those characters out in performance.  They have created an online personalization tool – where users can create Panem citizenship cards – but I was surprised at the low 800K number relative to the buzz for this film.  With what they’ve done, they’ve essentially been able to not venture too far into the silliness of some of the story that would really make it like THE RUNNING MAN by always bringing it back to character and story.

There have been a handful of other simple marketing products that might have been further embellished by digital, but the mainstay of the campaign for this futuristic film harkens to a time in the past. They distributed 80,000 posters, did promotional finger nail paint, had ticket give-aways and the magazine coverage is intense.

That print coverage will help in places that are often overlooked in the big film marketing of today – the small towns.  Having just spent the past few days in rural Southern Ohio, it became obviously clear that big billboards just don’t matter because they just don’t exist like they do in the big cities.  They also don’t have cinemas on every corner where you can see the key art.

What they have more than anything else is convenience stores with walls of magazines and most of them were highlighting the characters and subject matter of this film. It was hard to miss them and they weren’t just appearing on stands as the title drew near.  The title has been on magazine covers for months. It is those middle-America viewers who might only see the coverage in the store that will help this film possibly break records – some pundits are saying opening weekend will pass the $100 million mark.

There are certainly those who proudly state that they were able to manage huge endeavors with huge budgets, but the really special wins are those that are huge on a small or smart budget. THE HUNGER GAMES seems to be one that is headed in the right direction – and if Jeff Smith were around today and actually cared about marketing of these types of movies, I’m sure the progenitor of Frugal Gourmet will be proud.