Undead Avatars and Digital marketing

Facebook Werewolf Application

Facebook Werewolf Application

No-one has attacked my werewolf for at least 12 months thankfully. That might be because, along with a major purge of people I half knew (or old ex-girlfriends that my wife still had a problem with!) I also had a spring clean of all the useless ‘Web 2.0’ social networking apps that were funny for about 5 seconds. And it got me thinking … now that the buzz has died down somewhat concerning all things Web2.0 – what does social networking & user generated content really mean in the context of digital communications campaigns as we come to the end of 2008?

Let’s face it – banners are becoming increasingly limited as CTRs progress past the decimal point in infinitesimal increments, and while SEM is proven to work; let’s face it the creative approach is a bit lacking and it’s more like marketing by numbers.

So how do you create a piece of digital collateral that connects with your audience & perhaps , more importantly, WHY would you want to? Does the old ad man’s maxim of “Who Says What to Whom & With What Intent” have any relevance these days? Once you’ve identified your target audience, do you in fact want them to answer back?

The competition for “eyeballs” (what a gothically ghoulish shorthand term that is!) has become all the more fierce & desperate as the audience become increasingly more cynical and apathetic to marketing spin. Most audience demographics these days spend significant time looking at a screen which isn’t just a TV. The Trad Ad men have been worried for some time – the death of the 40 second promo seems inevitable but no doubt when it has shuffled off the analogue mortal coil, they’ll have worked out how to serve you ads to your PVRs or while your mobile phone downloads a movie over 3G.

Does that mean that short-format “advertainment features” will be the next thing on digital? Will they be streamed to our PCs or hand-held device – from mobile to PSP to iPod? Already on some sites (such as Virgin or Sky) there can be a 30 second ad before the main online video feature.

Frankly speaking, all the above is a hotch-potch of whatever you can read on progressive marketing or tech-crunching blogs. The future is as always a little uncertain and while some of the above may be pertinent to the progression of marketing in the 21st Century a lot of it may not be … But one thing I do know for sure – there’s been a change in the marketeers.

Phase 1 of digital design usually revolved around the statement “WHY would I want one of those” This was epitomised for me even at tech firms like IBM, where I remember having to persuade various departments that they needed to have a website at all! To be honest even when I was working on the digital roll out of the new BP brand at the height of dotcom period at Razorfish, we still met a fair amount of resistance from some quarters. New media was still seen as ‘New’ and a bit out there … dude!

Phase 2 was more about “I WANT one of those, you know just like such-and-such has got”. This was neatly embodied for me by the BBC whom had brought ashore some ship-wrecked dot-commers to help them take the high-ground in the vacuums left by the dotcom implosion. However what most clients wanted was to be “best of breed” but didn’t want to stand out unnecessarily in case they were seen as doing it wrong. IMHO the BBC was inevitably the industry leader in quite a few digital areas (particularly eTV services) but in the internet it certainly didn’t do much to break the mould … it was just very good at doing what everyone else was doing. Perhaps with the recent welcome advent of the iPlayer they’ll have taken the high-ground again – but essentially it is playing to their broadcast strengths. I would be interested to see what take-up it’s had over the first 6 months (compared for instance with the audience watching episodes they missed on their PVR, AppleTv or old fashioned VHS recording!) Apparently, I’m informed, iPlayer now accounts for 10% of all network traffic. But what does that mean in terms of audience figures (especially if that’s based on just data transfer?) 10,000 viewers or 10 million?

Phase 3 is, in my mind, becoming more about “I NEED one that’s not like anyone else’s and makes us unique”. In essence clients have moved from reluctance, to wanting to fit in, to wanting to stand out. True, this is probably because most of our clients now actually use digital services every day AND more importantly so does their boss! Increasingly they won’t get their next McJob just by showing some glossy printed scamps & a flashy TV ad showreel. They’re going to be asked about digital innovation and integrated campaigns.

So maybe that’s the real value of social networking sites like the ubiquitous FaceBook – as annoying as it was to be told your werewolf has been “ruled” by an old school mate – at least it means that most people we know, and that includes our clients, are now using the actual end product. Less & less we’re being asked to make a ‘viral’ like it’s just part of the codec we use when constructing it – “just click the viral check box eh lads?” Marketeers in the the majority now “get it” and can see that the ideas need to be thought through – in the main their knowledge of digital is not too far from our own. They know you can’t just be an “also ran” anymore & will really question (quite rightly) if their audience need another Undead Avatar social networking game!

In my own experience there has been some real innovation in the graduate recruitment sector and corporates I have worked for such as Allen & Overy and Hewitts (lawyers and professional services respectively) have become increasingly demanding (in a good way!) in their desire to stand out from the crowd. The competition for attention with graduates is, if anything, more fierce than some more established sectors and their target demographic is very comfortable with digital (having been brought up in a wired world). This desire to be different has penetrated through everything, from visual and interface design, to complex video elements, general content and copy tone, to the approach to marketing and publicizing the websites at grad fairs. Similarly ,clients in the wider recruitment sector such as TotalJobs Group, are increasingly looking to do something revolutionary and ground-breaking to capture the imaginations of UK graduates.

Although Saatchi & Saatchi brand guru Kevin Roberts would have us believe that the future of brands is the concept of the “love-mark”, and others may conjecture that in the 21st century it is not so much about the brand as my brand … personally I think it’s much more simple than that. Yes I agree that digital branding includes everything from the interface to the visual elements to the tone of voice and technical matters such as download speeds and response times … but do people really care that much (as long as within reason those things are all OK?) I think that as long as they find the experiencing ‘rewarding’, it was something different, and they can remember it 5 days later and know what words to type into Google to find it again, then it’s job done.

I’ve also seen this risk taking manifesting itself in some of our more corporate and insitutionalised clients – including heavily regulated bodies such as the NHS – in moving away from “me too” digital offerings and really pushing the creatives to deliver bold and original concepts – from the concept itself through to a bold and striking visual design. (see Quintain’s digital branding and SmokeFree Camden’s inside.outside.everywhere campaign)

While unique content is still king, it does also still need to be original, well positioned & aptly marketed. There are no short-cuts or magic buttons to press … the challenge now is to really think, focus, & come up with something great that entertains, informs or educates or empowers your audience. A lot of the time I think we too easily give in to our clients and deliver them websites or digital marketing plans containing what they expect – a bit of social networking link up, some banners and a flash game etc

But now I believe the clients are ready to take risks from visual design to brand & technology – the real question is are we ready? Or do we just give them a FaceBook app because they asked for it?

I suppose a good example of that includes the TotalJobs Graduate Recruitment client who rather than pursue the possible much-hyped and vaunted “let’s do a Graduate Fair in Second Life” opted for a far more pragmatic and useful online video and Q&A forums driven virtual Fair. (see Gradu8 Post ) I’ve never been a fan of Second Life myself, and I’ve still no idea how much time and money it would have taken to create a virtual fair in Second Life – but I think Totaljobs chose the right path and we were challenged to deliver something that wasn’t tokenistic or just part of a fading Web2.0 zeitgeist. And I doubt we would have got 20,000+ visitors and over 4,000 applications in a week if they had.

© R M Lippiett 2008

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Sunday, December 28th, 2008 digital branding, digital marketing, opinions