Thursday, March 29, 2012

5 Ways the New Facebook Builds Brands

On March 30 brand pages on Facebook that have not made the change to the new Timeline format will automatically be converted. This means that if you haven’t updated your company’s page by Friday, Facebook will do it for you. The impetus behind the new format is that Facebook wants businesses to act and interact like people. Steering away from a “buy now” approach, they’ve incorporated strong visuals, fan loyalty techniques, and storytelling to encourage brand interaction. They’re imposing some guidelines too.

Facebook’s design lead Sam Lessin explains: “The key with cover photos is storytelling and expression. We want to create a good experience for everyone, and we think these guidelines really help brands…They’re encouraging people to create engaging content that people want to come back to.”

When you start to examine the new format, you’ll quickly see that there are five major modifications in these Facebook brand pages. First, like a cover photo on a magazine, there’s a widescreen image at the top of the page. This is your brand’s first impression to attract your audience. And to ensure that you keep it inviting, Facebook has imposed image guidelines that exclude your using this space as a billboard for website addresses, contact information, or promotions.

Second, placed vertically on the right is the historical timeline. This is an opportunity to showcase your brand’s stories. Different from the old format, here companies are able to add past events that don’t necessarily tie into the date on which they joined Facebook, i.e. a company’s founding or other milestone. This is a great method for humanizing your brand and showcasing your credibility through strong engaging content.

Third, to help you drive traffic to key areas, Facebook has introduced the ability to make selected content "sticky" for seven days. The new Timeline format gives brands the option to "pin" key information to the top of the page so you can highlight important content like that hot promotional offer or the free white paper.

Fourth, there are also some handy new admin capabilities for page managers built into the Timeline so you’ll be able to view metrics about your page performance, edit content, and respond to messages from every day users. In addition, your consumers will be able to message your brand directly and you, in turn, will be able to provide tailored responses to specific questions or comments. Also, instead of deleting posts, you can curate your content, hiding comments that are out of date or inappropriate.
Finally, in addition to these aesthetic and functional changes, this new format will be an impetus for brands to develop their own custom apps that build on Facebook’s new social applications. It will promote the development of "Open Graph" apps, which have their data tapped for ad targeting, an area of business focus for Facebook. Timeline is a sophisticated evolution of the Facebook experience; it's one that’s grown to gain a more comprehensive and detailed picture of the user’s interactions. It will influence the way companies deliver their Facebook strategies. These new capabilities will require more time and attention but are something your business will want to maximize. What are your thoughts on this new format? I’d love to read your comments.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Leaving Normal

I got my master's degree in a town called Normal and inevitably my school buddies and I joked about the name. Our journey away from Normal was sometimes just taking advantage of school breaks, but occasionally, “leaving Normal” was a code word for Timothy Leary-like modeling behavior. Well, I published my thesis and got my degree to embrace job, home, and family. But recently I've had the feeling that I'm leaving Normal again and it's not just me. You're leaving too.

This feeling is rooted in the technology advancements that I see emerging and exploited. Like my increasing dependence on my mobile phone, my use of Facebook to keep up with my family and friends, and my entertainment choices incorporating online games, like Scrabble, which I play with my brother who's often a continent away.

For a moment, think about the printing press, a technology that transformed humankind. Imagine a bunch of artisans standing around with Gutenberg, discussing his invention. The conversation might sound like this: "This certainly changes things. First off, we won't need all those monks to scribe books for us anymore." "You know, that parchment just won't work. Let's try this stuff from China. Paper." "These metal type pieces are so much more durable. The wooden ones kept breaking."

You get the idea. New technologies of paper, ink, and metal converged with the printing press and resulted in books. This meant that more people had access to knowledge. More people learned to read so they could take part in the sharing. The rise in literacy resulted in new industries and new trades like publishing and public libraries. In fact, the printing press is responsible for the era of mass communication, which supported the rise of the middle class and altered the structure of society through the circulation of information and ideas that crossed all types of boundaries, both physical and attitudinal.  

It feels like this type of transformation is happening all over again. Just like the impact of the printing press, the Internet and resulting technologies are changing the way we interact with each other to share knowledge and conduct business. Now we’ve come to expect (or is it assume?) that our media will fit in our pocket and keep us connected. 

Adam Broitman describes today’s brands as needing to deliver these seamless experiences and, in his recent article, A Marketer's Guide to Augmented Realityencourages marketers to rethink the consumer's touch points to stay ahead of their expectations and needs. "Consumers will begin to expect an on-demand brand presence in this new world of ubiquitous access. If your brand is not there to greet them, you may not be there when the time comes to make a purchase."  

What does this brand presence look like in the post-PC era? Greg Satell provided some insights last week in his article, The New Digital Battlefield. “The next frontier will be the creation of immersive experiences at home and in-store. Rapid advancement in base technologies, heavy investment by major players and serious interest from marketers are combining to transform the way we will experience media.”

As we shed this place and time what will we become? This metamorphosis lead by imagination and the potential of technology is cleverly suggested in this very cool video from Corning. One thing is for sure; we're definitely leaving Normal.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Don't Be Shy, Build Your Brand with Good Manners

My Mom and Dad liked to entertain. Mom was a great cook and Dad was her right-hand lieutenant in the kitchen. When I was little, I used to hate their dinner parties because I was very shy — so shy, in fact, that when their company arrived, I would hide under my Mom's skirt.  
This was the fifties, so there was plenty of skirt to provide camouflage. To her credit Mom didn't shoo me away but gracefully maneuvered with that "extra pair of legs" peeking out from under her shirtwaist dress, skittering along with her while she waltzed about the kitchen, cooking and chatting with friends. Under her skirt, I felt protected. I could hear the company but I didn't have to interact. I was safe in my own world. 
In an effort to get me out of my “safe land," my parents gave me a book called Manners Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf. The book explained that since we don't live on desert islands, we meet people, and when we meet someone we smile and shake their hand. Dad improvised the experience and actually took my hand and shook it. That's when I learned the Guthrie Handshake.  
Here's the secret: Don't squeeze too hard, but don't be a softy, either. Look this stranger in the eyes, smile, grasp their hand firmly, and say, "How do you do?" For me, having this plan of action in mind when I met someone new made the process so much easier. Like following the directions on a box of Jell-O, as Dad would say. 
I realized recently that those basic manners that I was taught are good guidelines to use in my online interactions. In fact, the backbone for social behavior and promoting your brand (or yourself) effectively online is all about showing respect for the other person, whether they’re a potential friend or customer. Social media has given consumers a voice, and the tremendous power of their opinions disseminated online means that companies and brands have to compete on a whole different level than they used to. They have to be nice, or consumers will tell on them. 
The moral of this story: Show respect, say thank you in your interactions, and remember that if you’re unsure how to begin, try the Guthrie Handshake on the next person you meet. Then you can get to know them on Facebook, stay in touch with emails, text plans for meet-ups, and connect your LinkedIn networks. Voila! You’re on the path to creating a loyal following of friends or friendly customers. 
To remind you of the value of good manners in today’s world, I’ll leave you with this from Sting. It always takes me back to being an alien under Mom’s skirt. and besides, as the lyrics go: “If manners maketh man as someone said, then he's the hero of the day.” You be the hero.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dancing with Codes, QR Codes That Is...

You’ve seen them, these intricately marked Rorschach-like squares, next to merchandise in stores and on business cards, posters, or brochures. They’re called QR codes. The QR stands for "quick response." More powerful than traditional bar codes, these mobile tagging devices, when scanned with a smartphone, provide you with links, geo-coordinates, text; they're like a magic doorway to more information in a digital world. Developed in Japan for use in vehicle manufacturing, specifically inventory and supply chain management, QR codes initially gained rapid popularity in Europe and the U.S. But their adoption into the main stream while steady hasn’t been frenetic, for a couple of reasons. 
First, not everyone has a smartphone. Consider stats released on March 6 by comScore for mobile usage. One of the notable data points from the report is that for the three-month average period ending January 2012, over 100 million U.S. mobile subscribers used smartphones out of a total of 234 million Americans using mobile devices in general. That’s about 57% that can’t scan QR codes with their mobile device even if they want to. That certainly would slow use.
A second reason for slow adoption is that there are some other cooler, more sophisticated technologies out there like near field communication (NFC) and mobile visual search (MVS). With MVS, you use your smartphone’s camera to shoot a picture. Within seconds, the MVS application captures the image and provides information or the opportunity to purchase. MVS is still in its early days, so, in addition to requiring your smartphone, it works best with landmarks, books, wine, DVDs, and artwork. To get more detail, check out Jon Barocas’ February article in Mashable on Why QR Codes Won’t Last.
The other technology seen encroaching on QR codes is near field communication. NFC establishes a set of standards to enable radio communication between smartphones by touching the phones together or bringing them into close proximity. As I understand it,Google Wallet is an example. This financial transaction capability makes NFC more multifaceted and is a key differentiator from QR codes. This short video shows you how NFC works.  
The big difference is that you can’t make these technologies (NFC or MVS) easily at home, where with QR codes you can. In fact, you can make your own QR code right now at and create an offer for whatever your heart desires. For the small business person this generates some great sales opportunities. For example, you can display your personalize QR code in your storefront windows, advertise different incentives for customers like a free latte with purchase, promote a free home evaluation on your business card, or design an icing message atop those cupcakes. Think of your QR codes as an interactive device that intrigues and then engages your smartphone customers, increasing the chance that they’ll remember your product and buy. If QR codes don’t last it really doesn’t matter, as you’re not looking at a huge investment; you’re just having some fun today and making some money. 
Look at what happened when Heineken recently used QR codes at a music festival where everybody attending could have their own code printed on a sticker and wear it. These QR stickers carried personal messages that ultimately helped people break the ice during the event (asking a stranger for a scan does break the ice). The interactivity continued afterwards as festival goers uploaded photos of themselves and their codes to Facebook and connected with friends they’d just met. Here’s how it all unfolded. Check out “almost flying man."

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Is Your Phone Dumb?

There’s certainly a lot of hype surrounding the growth of smartphones and especially Apple iPhones, but before you are charmed into spending precious marketing dollars on either, here’s a reality check. Of mobile phones sold worldwide in 2011 as reported by mobiThinking, 94% were not made by Apple, and as reported by comScore, 56% were not smartphones. They were “dumb” phones.  

Dumb phones are feature phones, a generic term, according to Wikipedia, that’s applied to all mobile handsets that aren’t smartphones. Feature phones address the market for customers who don’t want or can’t afford a smartphone. Also, what might have been considered a smartphone a few years ago could be a feature phone today. Obviously because of the rapidly evolving technology, phone features are changing fast. As I understand it, a feature phone might have a personal digital assistant (PDA) or a portable media player, and include some “smart” features like a camera, touchscreen, GPS, or Wi-Fi access. Sounds pretty smart to me. (Does anyone else hear the crunching sound of products converging?)

ComScore reports that 44% of all mobile subscribers (42% in the U.S.) now use smartphones. This means that 56% of all mobile subscribers are using feature phones. So it appears that the real competition in the bid for your marketing dollars is between smart phones and feature phones with the pivotal moment happening when smartphone sales overtake feature phone sales. Hope you’re patient, because we’re not seeing that event any time soon.

Yes, it is true that smartphone sales in 2011 grew worldwide at 61.3%, and feature phones started to decline at -2.9%, but there were still well over a billion feature phones sold in 2011, outselling smartphones by more than 2:1. This means that for every person who buys a smartphone, two will buy a feature phone.

As reported by IDC’s Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst, "Feature phones maintain their appeal on the basis of price and ease of use. At the same time, feature phones are fighting to maintain their market share. To meet the challenge, feature phones are becoming more like smartphones, incorporating mobile Internet and third-party applications.” While this may not stem the smartphone tide, according to Llamas, it should “slow down the rate at which smartphones are selected over feature phones." (I thought that crunching noise wasn’t coming from the blender).

What’s a smart business person to do? My suggestion is that you take a good look at your existing customer base. Maybe a mobile phone survey, even an outbound phone call to a random sample, is a good first step. I know “talking to your customers” is my go-to position but before you allocate dollars to develop an iPhone app, you really should have a handle on how many of your customers have iPhones. If your customers are the salt of the earth, you may find that they’re feature-phone owners, in which case you’ll want to know what mobile manufactures and what features.

My closing thought is that 2011 was a game-changing year for the mobile industry. Smartphones entered the market big time, tablets emerged, and consumers, like you and me, started integrating mobile behaviors into our lives. It’s a new dawn and a new day. But we’re all embracing these different technologies at different rates, so be sure that where and how you’re marketing your products and services is in sync with your customers’ personal and social adoption of these platforms. Otherwise you’ll be wasting money.