Paul M. Banas on Consumer Insights, Marketing Research, and the Digital Media Landscape

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Is RSS Dead?

Is RSS, the backbone of content distribution online, tapped out from broader consumer standpoint?

According to Forrester Research it is:

With only 11% of consumers using RSS, and of the remaining 89% of those who don’t use RSS feeds, only 17% of them saying they are interested in using them in the future, it looks like broadly distributed online content has a dark future.

However, I have to take a different tack then Steve Rubel or Forrester on this.  If I were to survey US consumers right after World War II on whether they think they would use a television, and for those who don’t, do they think they would in the future, I’d probably get roughly the same data back as Forrester got on RSS.

I agree that RSS is a geeky term and most of the broader base of the US public still don’t use RSS readers.

But just like Apple was able to use consumer insights to make music downloads and the mobile internet interesting to the broader public, and Google was able to make search engines decidedly not techie, I think there is a great opportunity for someone to take all the content currently available in RSS format and make it as easy to access as the evening news on TV.

RSS in its current form may not be the answer, but that doesn’t mean we should be reading its obituary.

October 21, 2008   10 Comments

Top 10 Examples Of Brands Levering Twitter

What if you asked a question about a brand and the brand answered back?

On Twitter these days, that’s exactly what is happening.  Twitter has evolved from a a microblogging tool that allowed first adopters to share exactly what was going on in their lives in 140 character or less, into an increasingly mainstream conversation tool that companies and brands are just beginning to use to connect to consumers.

Some brands have made mistakes along the way, while others have had their brands hijacked by others (e.g. “Janet” of Exxon Mobil).

But the brands listed below have all used Twitter to engage their consumers directly, in ways that traditional brand communication tools could never have been able to do as effectively or efficiently:

1.) Comcastcomcastcares

Comcast has made a significant dent in its negative perception of poor customer service with a Twitter presence that is really turning heads.  For starters they use a real person, with a real photo instead of a logo. Check out this NY Times article for a more about Comcast’s presence on Twitter.

2.) Zappos - zappos

Here is a great post from AdFreak about how Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh becomes a “one-man-customer- service machine” on Twitter.

3.) Southwest Airlines - southwestair

As usual, Southwest Airlines takes one of the most maligned industries out there and puts a smiling (and branded) face on it.

4.) Dell Computers - Dell on Twitter

Dell lists out all Dell related Twitter accounts, ranging from those talking about the latest deals and promotions, to international Dell news, and Dell focused bloggers.

5.) Oracle - Oracle Tweeters

A complete list by Oracle of all their employees with external blogs and Twitter accounts.

6.) Whole Foods - wholefoods

A great mix of answering consumer questions, posting news of interest, and sharing links to favorite recipes.

7.) British Prime Minister’s Office - downingstreet

Not necessarily a brand or company, but I like the official government presence on Twitter.  I found this Tweet interesting: “Cabinet reshuffle is taking place today. We will have details of confirmed movements and appointments on the website later…”

8.) Forrester Research - forrester

One of the top digital marketing research agencies, Forrester Research, levers Twitter as both a way to monitor chatter about its brand, as well as a way to keep a pulse on the broader digital conversation.

9.) method - methodtweet

This green consumer goods manufacturer Tweets on everything from environmental factoids, to the latest update on their corporate dodgeball team.

10.) HR Block - HRBlock

I would imagine this Twitter account will really heat up as we get closer to the April 15th tax deadline next year.

Twitter is still in an early phase from a broad reach adoption curve standpoint.  However, mainstream brands are staking out effective presences and levering Twitter’s ability to foster meaningful interactions with a wide range of people.

If there are other brands who you think are doing a good job on Twitter, please feel free to comment or just send me a Tweet @ paulbanas.

October 10, 2008   No Comments

The Elements Of A YouTube Viral Video

Only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of videos uploaded to YouTube daily will reach 100,000 plus viewers, which is one of the benchmarks used for a video to be considered “viral” on YouTube.

The elements of a viral video that allows it to reach that level fall into two buckets: above board best practices and below board ways to game the system.

The above board elements of a viral video include:

Can Answer A Simple Question: “Why would someone want to share this video with others?” – whether it’s funny, controversial, racy, unique, or just plain strange, all viral videos must be “share worthy”.  There is a certain element of “badge value” that comes from sharing something with your friends that you know that they would enjoy, especially if you are the first.  A video then becomes a form of social currency, to hopefully be exchanged exponentially.

Video Is Well “Branded” – the title and the thumbnail video image need to jump past the other video competition.  By understanding thumbnail optimization and how to write an engaging title, you can set up a video for success.  Like any other form of advertising, the title and the thumbnail have only a couple seconds to register someone’s interest before they move on to something else.

Social Media Outreach – a video has about 48 hours to profit from being on the “Most Watched” video page, so thinking ahead on ways to share it through outlets like Facebook, MySpace, Stumbleupon, and Digg can definitely provide a kick start.  However, the line between sharing a video with those who may be interested and outright spamming can be very thin indeed.

Which brings me to the below board elements of a viral video.  In his post on TechCrunch, Dan Ackerman Greenberg covers some of the points above, but also goes into ways how his firm artificially pumped up viewership through usage of multiple accounts and comment manipulation.  What is also interesting was his mea culpa follow up post after the blizzard of negative comments he received.

For a deeper understanding of YouTube and the sociology behind it, this video done by Dr. Michael Wesch of Kansas State University is both a fascinating story, as well as a great source of insights into YouTube itself:

YouTube Preview Image

September 30, 2008   1 Comment

One Year Out

Last week marked one year of posting at Insight Buzz. So after spending a couple minutes in Google Analytics looking over the 92 posts that made up this past year’s worth of writing, I’ve pulled together a list of the top couple of articles that had the most readership traffic in the past year.

1.)  10 Steps To Mastering Google Reader

10 steps to turning the torrents of blog feeds and news posts out there into a manageable flow of insights.  This is a topic I plan on coming back to again over the next several weeks.

2.) 4 Principles Of Persuasive Social Media Marketing

A study of the organizational influence work of psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini in order to find corollaries in social media that lead to four principles for marketers looking for better success in social media marketing.

3.) Who Clicks on Ads?

A look into the 6% of the online population that makes up 50% of all display ad clicks.  And they’re probably not who you think they are.

In addition to the top posts, I’m also including a link to my first official post, on the potential behind search data as a source for consumer insights (numerically it is actually second, since my first post was the digital equivalent of someone tapping a microphone and asking “Is this on?”).

Consumer Insights And The Potential Of Search

How the study of search behavior from a cultural anthropologist’s standpoint will lead to even richer consumer insights for market researchers.

September 16, 2008   No Comments

Examples Of Social Media Marketing In Action

Former Forrester Research analyst Peter Kim has created a true labor of love with a list of 200+ examples of how companies and brands are levering social media marketing.

He captured a couple of my favorites that I’ve written about in the past, including Nike+, Carnival Cruise Lines, and Dove Evolution.

What is clear is that many brands and companies are trying innovative ways to tap into social media as a way to engage their consumers.

From his list I found this link to Blendtec’s YouTube channel, which as of this writing has had over 2 million channel views and over 100,000 subscribers.

Here is the latest iteration of “Will It Blend?”, featuring Nike:

YouTube Preview Image

September 7, 2008   No Comments

A Way Google Can Make Big Money With Mobile

Can this little mobile bar code be worth a significant slice of a $320 billion market opportunity to Google?

It’s not a question that one of the cornerstones of Google’s future earnings growth will be in the mobile market, but what is debatable is whether its paid search revenue template that has worked to date through traditional desktop computers will be the way they get there.

Recently Henry Blodget of the Silicon Alley Insider wrote about why Google shouldn’t be thinking that mobile advertising is the ticket to higher revenue.

Specifically, he took Google CEO Eric Schmidt to task about his statement that Google could make more through mobile advertising than the $20 billion it currently takes in through traditional desktop computers.

He does the math this way:

“Google currently makes about $20 billion a year in desktop. For Google to make “more in mobile than desktop,” the targeted mobile advertising market will have to grow from less than $1 billion today to, say, $50 billion (assuming Google pulls down a mind-boggling half of it).”

While I agree with him that users aren’t going to tolerate intrusive mobile advertising interfering with their communications, if Google can find ways to deliver value to consumers through mobile, maybe those revenue  fantasies can become more of a reality.

And a key way I believe that Google could deliver that value is through mobile couponing.  In fact, as this earlier Silicon Alley Insider article by Dan Frommer covers, Google has tipped its hat in this direction already.

The secret is using the little square bar code above in conjunction with a mobile device’s camera to tap into the large existing market of paper coupons that appear every week in publications across the country.

For a point of reference, in free standing inserts alone (FSI coupons added to daily and weekly newspapers), there were 257 billion coupons dropped in 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence and Marx promotion, up 1.6% versus prior year.

The average face value of these coupons was $1.26, which represents over $320 billion dollars of value delivered to consumers by major and minor marketers across the country.

This doesn’t even include the value of coupons through direct mail, in store coupon machines, or coupons with your register receipts.

In contrast, the total amount to be spent by marketers on online advertising in 2008, as estimated by eMarketer, is $24.9 billion, which was recently revised downward versus prior estimates.

I agree with Blodget that $50 billion for a mobile advertising market is a big number, even with Google being involved.  And if Google thinks they’ll be able to growth mobile revenues by jamming traditional advertising into a mobile handset, they certainly won’t get there.

However $320 billion in coupon spending is a bigger number, and if by levering mobile to provide true value to consumers versus just ads, Google could maybe do to traditional couponing what they have done already to traditional advertising.

August 26, 2008   No Comments

Digital Marketing Research Tools: Google Insights For Search

On Tuesday of this week, Google launched a new tool with a wide range of applications for marketers and marketing researchers, Google Insights for Search.

Google Insights allows users to analyze and compare different search terms by showing patterns in search volume over time, group top related search terms, and show which of those related terms are rising or falling in popularity.  It also allows you to slice and dice the data by different date ranges and geographical locations.

Below is a quick chart I did analyzing the search interest of a couple top social networking sites by comparing the search volumes associated with their names over the past year and a half (click for larger image).

Google Insights for Search

Google Insights for Search

In a very intuitive and and clean manner, the tool shows how MySpace’s search popularity has plateaued, while Facebook has rapidly overtaken it in the past several months.  It also shows the rapid rise of interest in the fast growing site, Hi5.

This tool is very granular, allowing users to drill down to very specific localities (e.g., Madison, WI) or time frames (e.g., last week).  Which means it has strong utility for local and seasonal search analyses.

You can even filter results by category, so you can analyze results for “apple” the fruit, rather than the company Apple, which dominates the search traffic for that word.

Marketers in particular can use Google Insights to analyze the popularity over time of different trends, topics, products, or even marketing campaigns.

Google Insights is clearly a tool that can mine Google’s massive “database of intentions” for a vast range of different insights and applications.

And, by the way, it’s free.

August 8, 2008   No Comments

Web Behavior And Better Digital Marketing

There are lots of digital marketing campaigns out there that look great flashing on a page, but in the end, never really seem to connect with consumers.

The main problem is that marketers are trying to shoehorn traditional marketing tactics onto digital mediums.  In this post that appeared in Ad Age, David Armano of Logic+Emotion has a great term for this in between approach to digital; he calls it “Tradigital” marketing:

“Tradigital, in my opinion, means using traditional marketing methods in the digital space. For example, creating an advertising campaign and “extending it digitally” usually ends up as a checklist. Micro-site? Check. Online banners? Check. Social media? Check. Mobile? Check.”

His answer to better digital marketing is a staple of what good marketers have done well in the past, which is understanding consumer behavior, this time in the digital space:

“It’s time to come to terms with how people really use the web (hint — it might not be to figure out your experimental navigation) and how we can harness the true power of digital.”

The way most people use the web, in contrast to something like watching TV, is as an active medium, rather than passive.

Whether it is asking questions through search, uploading family photos to Flickr, or communicating with friends through social networking, most of the time spent on the web is spent doing something.  Or, as Armano puts it, solving problems.

Which is why traditional interruption marketing like flashing banner ads, are not only ineffective, but in most cases, very irritating in their distraction.

A solution to better digital marketing would be to look at the top reasons why people use the internet and then ask how your digital marketing efforts can enhance their activities rather than distract:

  • How can your digital marketing help people better connect with their friends or people with similar interests?
  • How can your digital marketing connect your core consumers with the music or video content they really want to see?
  • Are your digital marketing efforts genuinely entertaining and are they something people would want to share with their family and friends?
  • How is your digital marketing helping people search for information quicker or more reliably?

I know it seems odd to ask digital marketing to simply lever what Facebook or YouTube are doing already.  It doesn’t seem groundbreaking or that creative.

But therein lies the point: how effective do you think your flashing banner ad is when it only serves to stand in the way of what people really want to do online?

August 4, 2008   No Comments

How Word Of Mouth Can Drive Retail Buzz

In my previous post on social shopping, there was a good comment exchange with Shammara on the role of word of mouth in online retail, which led me to look at the influence of online reviews on purchase behavior.

From this Deloitte study, we find the 82% of online shoppers who read reviews say reviews have a direct influence on what they buy, either changing their minds on which product to buy or to provide reassurance on purchasing their original choice.

consumer review purchase influence

This word of mouth influence from consumer generated reviews covers a broad range of products, from electronics to consumer packaged goods.

consumer review product purchases influence

There also seems to be a wide range of approaches that allow sites to capitalize on word of mouth.

For instance, at Amazon.com you can find not only customer reviews, but also editorial reviews, personalized recommendations, wish lists, tell a friend links, Listmania, and “Customers who bought (or looked at) this item also bought”, etc.

Buzzillions, as Shammara pointed out, is an aggregator of customer reviews of products that collects reviews from retailers across the web, such as REI, Staples, and BH Photo.

What I find innovative about their approach is how they provide verification for all 2.3 million reviews they’ve collected to date and the unique way they use tagging to classify the different reviews across all the categories they cover.  This tagging allows them provide useful snapshot reviews that include summaries of top pros, cons, and best uses for a product.

Yelp is a review site that does for restaurants and other local venues, what Amazon does for books.

By incorporating key features of social networking, including such things as extensive user profiles and connections to friends, Yelp levers social proof and authority, which are two of the four key principles of persuasive social media marketing, in order to bring their site to life.

Each of these resources utilize customer and/or user reviews in different ways, but all are highly effective.  By levering the power of consumer generated word of mouth, they are able to take online (and offline) retail to the next level.

July 29, 2008   2 Comments

The Social Aspect Of Online Retail

Versus visiting a mall or any other type of shopping center, many online retailers tends to be singularly focused on one aspect of shopping, the final purchase.

There is no sense of wandering through the aisles, watching others as they shop, or having someone with you to provide advice.

What is missing is the social aspect of buying something, which is one of the foundations of the Web 2.0 experience.  And for some online retailers who are not optimized to take advantage of this, this is a missed opportunity.

According to a recent Guidant\Synovate eNation study, more than 60% of respondents report being drawn to online retailers that employ Web 2.0 tools and techniques.

Online Shopping Sites

These social tools include soliciting feedback and providing recommendations on products and services, along with welcoming them and making them feel part of a community.

The reason why this is critical is that word of mouth is one of the primary influencers in having a consumer purchase one product over another.

According to this Nielsen Online Global Consumer study, recommendations from consumers are the most trusted form of advertising out there, along with consumer opinions posted online.

Most Trusted Forms of Advertising

An enhanced online shopping experience isn’t necessarily fancier graphics or flash programs.

The best online retail experiences are the ones that lever one of the most important aspects of offline shopping, the social aspect and the opinions of others.

July 21, 2008   10 Comments