Two Lessons for Brand Marketers from SXSWi: Data Paralysis and the Emerging Open Interest Graph

Since the late-90s when SXSW’s multimedia portion was redubbed ‘SXSW Interactive’, the little ‘i’ has evolved to encompass a lot. Once a sandbox for start-ups and small developers, SXSWi is now a launch pad for brands, services, and platforms of every shape, size, and industry. It has become so large that marketers argue over the value of participating as if it was a Super Bowl ad.

With this growth, many wonder whether SXSWi has lost its scrappy charm. “It’s too big!” some cry. “It’s overly commercial!” others wail. While this claim is fair, it has become one of the world’s largest Petri dishes for innovation, technology, and media, which is valuable in itself. The event a fascinating porthole into the digital space and a microcosm of the swift pace of change. For instance, in 2010 Gowalla topped Foursquare for a SXSW Web Award in a major geosocial showdown. These days, the latter is the de facto LBS partnering with Amex and the former is probably the secret ingredient in a BBQ joint’s dry rub.

Other than cursing the day you dismissed slapping your logo on an umbrella, here are two big lessons for brands from this year’s SXSWi:

Dodge Data Paralysis

In the mid-20th Century, marketers treated consumers as largely homogenous because it was difficult and costly to do otherwise. This lack of information paralyzed some brands and resulted in messages that lacked relevance for large percentages of audiences, creating waste and aggravating consumers.

In 2012, we have a glut of consumer information – census data, social actions, user journeys, clickpaths, and, with the advent of social media, interests and likes. However, it doesn’t stop there. In the panel ‘Influence: It’s in Your Genes’, Paul Saarinen and Scott Fahrenkrug discussed how the next data frontier may tap a customer’s very core: genotyping through DNA.

In the past, much of a consumer’s behavior outside of a purchase environment was only for anthropologists to understand. Now dashboards are at our fingertips and we can often observe what consumers are actually saying via social media. While this shift was manageable in the 70s through the 90s, access to information has accelerated so quickly because of social media, mobile, and other emerging platforms, many marketers are struggling to turn this data into meaningful insight.

Introduce the idea of complex sets of data like DNA and, suddenly, we’re paralyzed by a surplus of data.

Takeaway: Decide what consumer information is important to your brand by focusing on your business objectives.  Just because something can be measured doesn’t mean it will result in insight about your consumer or your business.

Data comes from your website, social platforms, SMS lists, direct surveys, secondary research, and your own intuition. Good marketers will decide which metrics are most important to their businesses. Building a dashboard without strategic context is worse than ineffective – it risks wasting valuable resources and confusing the issues. Focus is key – determine what you need to know as a part of your strategic planning, and stick to that information and re-evaluate periodically. Strive to be as disciplined with your data diet as you are with your strategy.

Play in the Interest Graph

Unsurprisingly, Pinterest and its kin received plenty of attention at SXSWi – and panelists in the ‘How to Harvest Consumer Intent from the Social Web’ session touched on the distinction of these platforms as parts of the ‘interest graph’ not the ‘social graph.’ While it may sound like a mincing of buzzwords, it’s not – there’s a fundamental difference in the role brands play within the two graphs. In basic terms, here is a handy definition adapted from David Rogers at ReadWriteWeb:

  1. Social graph (n): “This is who I know.” E.g., Facebook, BranchOut, LinkedIn.
  2. Interest graph (n): “This is what I like.” E.g., Pinterest, Fancy, Netflix.

Certain platforms and services straddle this line, like Foursquare , YouTube, and SXSWi belle of the ball Highlight.

Of #1 and #2, where would consumers expect to interact with consumer brands? Clearly #2, the interest graph. The interest graph, often focused around products and visuals, is a much more natural milieu for brands. This type of activity existed in closed platforms for years in the form of Amazon Wish Lists and gift registries, but the open interest graph is a relatively new territory for marketers. As panelists, Edward Boches, Farrah Bostic, AJ Vaynerchuck, and Jeff Janer agreed, part of understanding the climate around your brand in digital is understanding emerging platforms.

Social relationships are central to a platform like Facebook, while brands are ancillary – remember last year’s Forrestor Research study that suggested large chunks of 12-24-year-olds don’t want to befriend brands on The Social Network? Conversely, brands and the lifestyles they represent are regularly central to user activity on Pinterest.

Takeaway: Embracing the concept of an open interest graph as distinct from social media at large could be a large boon for certain brands. Ripe opportunities exist for developing a brand’s visual voice and segmenting based on interest where the primary social activity is representing one’s tastes through tangible items, often products.

Did you attend SXSWi? If so, what are your big takeaways? Other than invest in branded umbrellas.

 *Image credit: South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conferences & Festivals.

Sh*t We Say: Lessons from a Long-Tailed Meme – Part 2

(Part 2? Yeah, check out Part 1.)

In case you missed it, Ron Paul supportersASU students, and VFX artists were among those that joined the fray since my last post. The variations continue to proliferate further down the tail, satirizing – and entertaining – more niche audiences. What does this add up to? Segmentation.

While I easily enjoy Sh*t ASU Students Say even though I’m not a Sun Devil – and haven’t even been to the campus – the video resonates better with those who were. Beyond that, the video’s arc is more relatable to students who enrolled in the past 5-10 years and drink socially – perhaps even deeper for students who were in the Greek system and enjoy campus takeout.

The point is, there’s a clear difference in the type of viewer who’s going to watch the video halfway through for a chuckle and a viewer who’s going to share across social networks. Those pearls of info are demographic, psychographic, and behavioristic qualities – in some ways digital has obscured their importance.

As segmented as some brands’ social media programs get these days.

On-platform segmentation

On Facebook you can get granular with ads – age, gender, interest, etc. – but what’s the deepest a brand can go with a non-paid Wall post? Zip code – better than nothing, but hardly ideal. What’s the most specific you can get with a non-promoted tweet? Well, there isn’t any targeting at all. A brand can use hashtags, but hardly a guarantee it reaches the right followers and non-followers. The list goes on.

When considering the lack of earned and owned targeting, should we have been so shocked by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s recent study showing 1.3% of users who Like a Page also engage with it? There are a host of reasons – and it’s not panic time – but a lack of targeted relevance is likely a large factor.

Is there hope? You probably saw the Pinterest infographic shared far and wide yesterday. The standout points are a 429% traffic increase since September and a higher referral rate than Google+. The larger question is how we account for the platform’s explosion – my takeaway is self-segmentation. Users can very specifically choose what content they consume from brands. For example, a user may be more interested in HGTV’s Design Happens Blog board than its Party Planner board – and the user can choose.

Of course, we can’t always expect audiences to do all the work – that’s kind of our job – but content segmentation is likely a contributor to the platform’s growing popularity. This is also why diligent brands should use Google+ to group users and serve-up relevance by the Circle-full.

What are the lessons?

Segment your influencers – While mega-buckets like green and lifestyle are easy defaults, your influencers should be as refined as your audiences – and pitched with the same specificity. This involves additional research, but is worthwhile in the long-run. This principle is emphasized in our and freshly-updated Ogilvy Social Media Engagement CodeWe will always work hard to have good reason to connect our brand or program with a particular influencer or fan.

Diligent application of paid – Sometimes paid feels like a dirty word in our idyllic world of social media and word-of-mouth comms, but it’s a huge value-add when used properly. If a brand has a strong, relevant message it feels will resonate with ASU students or VFX artists, paid could be invaluable in getting the value exchange to a receptive audience.

Be targeted in your research – Broad statistics about social media won’t get you far. You may see large trends, but it doesn’t say much about your audiences. Believe it or not, MySpace is still relevant to stand-up comedians and forums are strong in industries like health care. Research + expertise for insight. As quickly as the digital world changes, intelligence must also be refreshed regularly – and with rigor.

As we continue to hear what sh*t all kinds of people say, more lessons about marketing in a digital world will come to the surface. Including when a campaign has run its course. Exhibit A @ 1:29. (It’s still hilarious.)

Are there other lessons you took away from this meme? What niche do you think is underserved in social media?

Sh*t We Say: Lessons from a Long-Tailed Meme – Part 1

It’s an English basement.”

That might not mean much to you, but it probably made you chuckle if you fall into one of the two groups:

  1. Current or former D.C. residents
  2. Viewers of Sh*t People In D.C. Say

Of course, this video is one of many variations of the Sh*t Girls Say series – which has a cumulative YouTube viewership of 20+ million and growing. You know the premise: Stereotypical expressions from people of a certain ilk, organized by gender, hobby, lifestyle, or geography. There are takes on skiershipsterssuburban moms, and even sh*t nobody says (a personal favorite) and the meme’s ’success’ reminds me of basic marketing program goals: generating word-of-mouth, stimulating co-creation, and targeting segmented audiences.


$1,400 for a converted sunroom? Not bad – better than an English basement.

First: Why do we care about sh*t other people say?

As a meme – both intentionally and by accident – these videos satisfy several of the 7 Drivers of Word of Mouth synthesized from Emmanuel Rosen’s work: there’s a good story, people can show their involvement, there is an implicit invitation to participate through their involvement, ’supporters’ can be creative, and, most crucially, there’s a clear value offering – comedy.

The power of these elements is not only clear in the 20+ million video views of the original – and millions more on the variations – but the number of amateur aueters who created their own. An absurdly unscientific calculation using YouTube shows 200+ videos using a basic search – let’s safely presume 50 are duplicates and 50 are spam. Even at 100 and with absolutely no prize, that’s higher participation than most branded video submission challenges get – save Survivor applications and Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl.

What’s the lesson?

This concept – again, presumably by accident – encourages marketers to revisit basics about constructing effective programs to generate word-of-mouth and cultivate co-creation. Here are a few quick ones:

  • Establish a proper barrier to entry for a desired output – if you’re inviting the masses, you better make it low.
  • Make it real – do a participants’ efforts really matter or is this just a marketing program? The former will help cultivate stronger long-term benefits.
  • Allow for creativity – while some of the videos are mocking groups, I would confidently presume that most of them were created by skiers and D.C.-ites themselves.
  • Let your co-creators own it – while everyone involved knows this is a marketing effort, no one’s interested in making a 6-minute branded video – nor does anyone want to watch one – so ensure the brand is seen through the lens of its fans, advocates, and consumers, not the opposite.

In Part 2, I’ll explore the concepts of segmentation as it applies to long-tailed messages and why – even if you don’t live in The District – Sh*t People in D.C. Say is still funny.

Why do you think this meme has become so popular? What are the other takeaways do you see that apply to marketers?

Socially-Driven Deals: 3 Ways They Help and 3 Ways They Hurt

Google. Facebook. Groupon. Yelp. LivingSocial. Amazon.

It’s a lineup of online juggernauts – all executing thrusts and parries to build an empire in the group buying space. In case you can’t keep up – and who could –  Google is testing Google Offers in Portland, Amazon is playing around with AmazonLocal in Boise, ID, and Yelp continues to dodge cable cars in San Francisco and keep its Deals afloat.

Oh, and there’s this little company valued at $15 to $30 billion, a smaller, but emerging competitor in LivingSocial, Bloomspot, KGB Deals, Buy With Me, EverSave ad infinitum. All of these socially-driven deals add up to an estimated 2,670,000,000 clams and growth rates continue to be astounding.

Yowza! The number of offers published has nearly doubled in the last quarter.

Yowza! The number of offers published has nearly doubled in the last quarter.

Logic would say with the space’s proliferation  restaurants, bars, and yoga studios must be praising the day Andrew Mason and co. decided to bring cut-rate organic spray tans to the masses. Logic would say that, but it’s up for debate.

Continue reading Socially-Driven Deals: 3 Ways They Help and 3 Ways They Hurt

School of WOM 2011 Takeaways: The Fallacies of Best Practices, Common Sense, and Influence

Fresh off the conference floor from this year’s School of WOM, it’s difficult not to feel conflicted as a digital communications professional. However, I’ve come to realize the true value of most conferences isn’t in the “Ah-ha!” moments, but rather the reflection. I don’t ever want to walk away from a gathering like WOMMA’s yearly event with notebook full of answers. If I did, I could have easily learned those lessons in a book or a blog post. A valuable conference in this industry is one that spurs discourse, rumination, and plenty of brow-furrowing.

What concepts stirred the pot during the 2.5-day event? Find out after the jump.

Showing off my artistic ability (or lack thereof) with a talkable nametag

Crayola provided crayons so we could show off our artistic abilities (or lack thereof)

Continue reading School of WOM 2011 Takeaways: The Fallacies of Best Practices, Common Sense, and Influence