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Archive | behaviors

What Ship of Theseus teaches us about branding

Ship of Theseus is a complex philosophical question….Ship of Theseus was a successful, sea-faring ship that remained active for hundreds of years because of its constant upkeep, maintenance and replacement of parts.  Plutarch in his book, “Life of Theseus,” raised a question: if every plank of the ship was replaced during its voyage, was it still the same ship? And Thomas Hobbes, built on this (centuries later) by posing another question – if another ship was built out of the discarded parts, was that now the original Ship of Theseus?

“The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.”

—Plutarch, Theseus[2] 
This question has become a means of debating and exploring the question of one’s identity – is an object more than its part? Are we more than our thoughts?
Lannyland adds another example that makes a similar point:  The little-known story of Steve Jobs and his Mercedes Benz. Steve drove a Mercedes without license plates for years  - thanks to a loop hole in the CA  law.
It turns out there’s a provision in California regulations that give one six months to get license plates for a new car, and Jobs took advantage of it. Yes, he leased a silver Mercedes SL55 AMG, said Callas — and every six months he traded it in for a new one. So to Steve, the car was still The Car of Jobs, but to the Californian DMV, the car was a different one.
I don’t quite know where I’m going with it but I find this thought fascinating. 
We use Ship of Theseus as an example because it was a particularly successful ship. For some reason, it ended up with the best team of sea-farers, the best repairmen, maybe always caught the right currents and avoided the pirates.  For whatever reason, other ships around the same time did not manage to survive long enough to become immortalized in history. I’m assuming they had access to the same resources, the same pool of talent, the same tools for repairs and replacements – but they failed to be as successful as Ship of Theseus. Theseus’ ship was the one that lasted, turning it from  just a ship into an idea to fall in love with, an historical story to respect and pass on.

Abe Lincoln’s axe has also been used in the same argument. His axe was a political and historical legend. Why do we use his axe to illustrate this paradox and not anyone else’s? Lincoln’s axe came not only to symbolize his humble roots but also what he went on to achieve after that, thus immortalizing his humble beginnings and use the axe as a metaphor to signify it.

So perhaps it is not about any object but about certain objects. Not about any individual or company but about certain individuals or companies that transcend their limitations and join history. Make a place in the hearts and minds of the people are more than an object, as a brand.

I can only assume that during its time (or after its time) Ship of Theseus became a brand. A brand that was respected and discussed. And perhaps the public doesn’t let respected brands die so easily.

So, even if another ship is built, plank by plank by the components of the original ship – it is not the Ship of Theseus because it has no history, no story, no brand, becaue it did not hold the same spirit as the original ship. Just as any other axe built from parts of Lincoln’s axe will never be wielded by him and hence will never come Lincoln’s axe.

Do “Gated Likes” dilute the value of a brand?

Undercurrent has a provocative blog post today titled, “How Brands are Killing Facebook.”

I have a lot of problems with the content in it. No offense to Jim Babb (whose excellent work, btw, I have followed and am a huge fan of) but the few points I want to make below, need to be heard and made.

The blog post asserts, “Hiding content behind a “Like-wall” is killing the value of a Facebook Like. In doing so, these brands are eroding the value of the Like and damaging their own social presence.”

This is not true. And here’s why:

1. There is no way to quantitatively differentiate the earned, paid and gated likes. And because it is impossible to do that, it is impossible to segment and understand the behavioral implications of these fans. Plus, most conversion studies I have seen say that a gated page does not negatively impact the behavior. It’s the content that makes or breaks it. Without any data to back up the assertion, I’ll be hard-pressed to make such a recommendation to my client.

2. In an ideal world, it will be nice to not use “Gated” likes. But here’s the reality. I just finished a study at JWT New York to understand how we use social media and what the behaviors are. When we asked our respondents, what were their reasons for connecting to a brand on Facebook or Twitter, the top three reasons were to do with incentives.

67% said they like a page to benefit from a specific promotion or offer;

63% said they like a page because to search for promotions and special offers.

53% said they like a page to participate in competitions and win prizes.

Point is, data and user behavior already suggests that the primary reason they are coming to a page or liking a page is for promotions and sales. Whether the page is gated or not, has nothing to do with it. Instead of focusing on the gated vs. ungated aspects of the puzzle, we are better off focusing on what to do and how to engage with these fans once the enter the turf. How they get there is important but more important than what we do with them once they get there!

If “Gated” likes have worked as a tactic to attract them and since they don’t yet show (at least to my knowledge) any negative impact on brands or consumers  – why not experiment with it? And use it as a tool to bring more people in?

Also, lets get off our high horses regarding Facebook and “fans.” Who says these people that like our page are our “Fans?” Facebook calls them that but it doesn’t mean they are truly our fans. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gated likes. In real life, to avail of a discount, you still have to step in the store. And that’s what I think a Facebook page is now. We call them “fans” because Facebook told us to call them fans. They could all just be people “in your store” – shopping or not.

We need to be careful in making recommendations that aren’t backed by data. I’ve done this before to0 – made recommendations that “feel” right for an ideal world. But we aren’t living in an ideal world. Brands are putting in a significant investment of resources, time and hard cash to grow their social footprint. This field is nascent but to move forward, we need to be able to sift through what “feels” right and what is accurate.

Just my two cents.

Living knowledge vs. dead knowledge

Stream of consciousness so bear with me…

I was at lunch with a dear friend of mine earlier this week. At 27, Clara is a highly accomplished business leader. Not only does she run and manage an amazing not for profit institution but is also currently enrolled at Stanford Business School. Over steaming aloo parathas, we caught up with each other and then our discussion moved to what we had learned.

Clara shared with me a very curious phrase and I’ve googled the heck out of it but cannot find much. She described to be the concept of living knowledge vs. dead knowledge that was recently discussed in one of our business classes. The notion being that living knowledge is the type that is still being argued upon and talked about and opinions are still nascent.

It reminded me of Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates philosophies. I just finished reading Job’s autobiography. It is a fantastic look into his life but offers broad strokes over the key philosophies that defined and nurtured the last fifty years of the digital age. One of them was the argument about closed integrated systems vs. open syndicated systems. (Jobs vs. Bill camps) I think we’ve seen how both models can work (with caveats, of course) but to me, it is one of those issues that is piece of “living knowledge.” Still being argued hotly and worked upon by members of both camps. Got me thinking, what other examples of living knowledge do we have from our digital history?

Digital in 2012: The web will make us smarter

The last decade or so were the august years of the Digital web. A sort of industrial revolution that created entirely new types of economies, skill-sets, companies and most importantly behaviors. Led by programmers and tinkerers and computer scientists, this industrial age has been crucial in helping us write our generational history. One of the biggest outputs though of this age has been the birth of a culture were our need for visibility has overtaken our need for privacy. What this has done is created a digital world that is not designed for developing original thought.

There’s nothing wrong with that and ofcourse the onus does not lie on the web. But I believe that anything in excess hurts the society. And all this talk about connectivity has left a few other equally important values for humanity at bay. It’s time to address this excess.

The good news is that a new slew of characters have emerge to balance out the equation. I believe, we are on the fringes of entering a new wave. I’m calling it the age of enlightenment in our digital history. And this age is being lead by a new class of people. These are thinkers, artists and storytellers not programmers and geeks. These are people driven by a vision that’s a bit more individualistic, centers more around exploring the tapestry of human opinions and feelings instead of connecting the world into one large immutable being.

The problem

Sharing has become a thoughtless act: Sharing used to carry weight – it used to be hold more meaning. Now, it’s passive, robot-like. And does not persuade or evoke response. Yet brands and marketers continue to tout the one-to-many function that social networks (and the Internet) has enabled. The web systems we have designed unfortunately haven’t focused on curating for the self but for the echo chamber that each of us is a part of. Some may argue we have become mindless drones, quick to react and retweet, but not *think*

I refuse to buy that a meaningful conversation can happen on channels we currently use: Facebook and Twitter predominantly. Even sites such as Pinterest and Tumblr who I’m a huge fan of, often symbolize nothing more than “inspiration fetishism” (a word coined by Stefan Boublil) What this has resulted into is a culture of people that backslap each other, think like one another and as a result, even act like one another. (I cannot tell you how many times I have heard about checking-in and scoreboards in a boardroom for new products. Which brings me to my next point..)

Value exchange is quantified in terms of likes, friends and followers: Web has become too much of a game. With gamifying the web and making instant gratification an expectation, we are setting ourselves up for failure.  I’ll give that the conversations around gaming are evolving and becoming more substantial but we have been trained to respond to flash sales, group buying and other forms of commercial game-induced behaviors. Gaming will have a larger role to play in the age of enlightenment, but perhaps not so overt. It’s job will and should become about elevating the meaning and importance associated with a like, number of friends and followers etc.

As our social quotient goes up, our intellectual quotient is coming down: The web is not going to disappear – if anything, it will continue to become more important in the next few years and become the entity that our kids will play with and even learn from. But if the growth of the web continues to perpetuate in such a manner – what kind of original thought will our kids will capable of producing?

The Solution?

The web, if designed and engineered differently,  has incredible power to induce substance back into our lives. To teach us how to think and encourage behaviors that aren’t simply reactive or celebratory. Our natural instincts are to shut technology or cut ourselves from it for a few days, to take a sabbatical or a thinking break. But why does it have to be this way? Why aren’t we or why haven’t we discussed the possibility of desgining technology and the Internet to make us smarter? Why don’t we make systems that:

1. Are designed for constructive debate and dialogue by exposing us to different points of views
2. Are designed for quality – not quantity. Where there is less immediate gratification.

In our capacity as marketers and brand stewards, our work is also indirectly shaping the future of education, humanity and intellectual thought. What roles can we play to encourage the evolution of the Web in a direction that’s not stunting our growth, but making us smarter individuals everyday?

The good news is, that I’ve already been seeing whispers of a movement in this direction. As I mentioned earlier, artists and thinkers are the one’s the forefront of this movement right now. Raghava KK, my fellow TED nominator and artist, has recently announced the launch of Shaken Media Collective.

Shaken Media Collective is an initiative brought about by the talents of creative individuals dedicated to forging a new direction of storytelling that raises empathy in readers by shaking up perspectives, and bringing stories to life through a fusion of play, art and technology.

You can see a glimpse of what this means (and its current incarnation) by downloading Raghava’s perspective-shifting PopIT application for the iPad where one shake of the story reveals a completely new perspective.

Another such attempt to bring more substance to the web and to our behaviors on the web is Cowbird. I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the early storytellers on the site. Cowbird, like most of other Jonathan Harris projects furthers how technology can offer new ways Screen shot 2011-12-21 at 6.54.01 PMof looking at the world, and telling stories. A tightly controlled and curated environment, Cowbird, is (in its own words)

trying to preserve and evolve the dying art of storytelling, using technology as friend instead of foe. We believe all people deserve equal access to the best storytelling tools, so the communication of ideas cannot be monopolized. We support the broad empowerment of individuals to voice their honest ideas about life, and we believe they deserve a clean, ad-free, uncluttered environment for sharing personal experience.By encouraging self-reflection and deeper connection, we hope to foster a feeling of empathy among people all over the world, so we can start to see our species — and indeed our planet — as a single living organism.

Regarding it’s whimsical name, it says, “Cowbird combines these two extremes to form a new kind of storytelling medium — mixing the slow, deeply rooted, contemplative idea of a cow with the fast, efficient, playful idea of a bird.”

I don’t know how successful these two initiatives will be, but we’ve entered the age of enlightenment and as the collective consciousness around this grows, more entrepreneurs, artists and thinkers will veer in this direction and build upon each other’s work to create a digital world that balanced. A world that can teach us to think as well as it as taught us to respond. Marketers as a rule respond to the current zeitgeist, and once we create a new habits and behaviors, marketers too, will play their part in accentuating and intensifying them.

This is my sincere hope for the coming year and I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this.

Is Facebook influencing world cultures for the better or worse?

There’s enough commentary out there about the new interface changes of Facebook and its new Time-Line centered social activities. I had a thought this morning that I’m trying to reconcile and figured I’d share it here and see if anyone else shared my concern. I’ve had the timeline for a few days now and I actually quite enjoy it. But I wanted to play devil’s advocate and argue a different point of view.

Celebrating micro-achievements is a distinctly American trait. For example, celebrations such as pre-school graduations, middle-school graduations and such are a very American trait. I grew up in India and I can tell you when you passed one grade and entered another, it wasn’t (still isn’t) made a huge deal of. I don’t have kids but that’s how I prefer it. Why must children be rewarded for their job? Or what’s expected out of them? I’m not sure if I’ll be able to escape this trend once I have my own children and if I decide to raise them in this country.

But I’m using this anecdote to make a bigger point: every single milestone in America is magnified and turned into a celebration. (There are both positive and negatives to this)

Like many other companies, Facebook is an American company that has global users. And this is important to not forget. With its new time-line feature, it is essentially introducing this very American trait of celebrating micro-achievements to the world stage. Time-lines offer users an exaggerated sense of their life and its milestones. It gives them a platform to celebrate and commemorate the most insignificant details of their lives. (Yes it has its benefits but I’m playing devil’s advocate here so let me run with it.) This isn’t entirely alien to the Americans, it’s more of an extension of how they’ve been raised and taught to value. But to Facebook’s heavy users in other countries (and I’m only intimately familiar with the culture in India so I can only speak to that) what does this signify or symbolize?

Will we raise an entire generation of Indian children to think, talk and celebrate their micro-achievements as American children do? Will there remain a unique cultural imprint on these children that have been raised on a steady American diet of self-exaggeration ?

Also as my friend Ryan pointed out, do these exaggerated celebrations chip away at the real sense of achievement that comes from doing hard work and earning something?

Just something to think about. If you come from a different background or culture, I’d be interested in hearing your perspectives.

101 on Google Plus (and what it means for brands)

What is Google+

Launched on June 28th, Google+ is a new social networking service intended to compete with Facebook.Google+ has incorporated the best features from Facebook and Twitter and eliminated several privacy challenges, giving users greater control of their content, who they share it with and how they share it. Since the announcement, Google’s brand perception has  soared led by a lift among the 18 – 34 age group)

How it works:

Three key features:

Circles: Google+ lets users put friends into different groups called circles, such as “friends,” “acquaintances,” “family” etc. Users can send specific updates to specific circles and also select to receive updates from specific circles.

Hangouts: Hangouts let you chat face to face with upto 10 people at a time, further enhancing the “social-ness” of the platform

Sparks: Sparks serve up content (blogs, videos, recipes, news, links etc) based on interest. As users add interests over time, Sparks become a personal content feed that users can share within circles

How it differs from Facebook & Twitter:

Unlike Facebook, Google+ lets you slice and dice updates coming into your newsfeed by topics and circles, giving users greater flexibility in consuming content. Google+ also lets users follow the public updates of people that a user is not friends with. At the same time, users can choose to share both public updates with everyone (like Twitter)

Unlike Twitter, Google+ does not limit users to 140 characters. Google+ also allows users to share videos, images etc and comment on the content. Twitter updates no longer appear in Google search, thus limiting the reach and impact of the Twitter content.

Cons wise, Google+ currently offers no application platform for third party developer or brand pages for companies and interest groups. But it’s only a week or so old, I’m certain that as it evolves, Google+ will address these issues.

What it means for brands?

Google already has a suite of excellent products (Docs, Gmail, GChat, Picasa, Maps, Blogger, Android, Search, Chrome, Reader etc) that are used by a billion people globally. What this means is that Google+ has a fair advantage in audience development and growth.

Secondly, Google+ has Google search. And Google Search is every brands strongest ally. Any brand that learns to use Google+ appropriately, stands to benefit from organic search. So while Google+ hasn’t yet rolled out brand optimized pages, brands such as Ford have been quick to build presences on the platform to engage with the early adopters using the existing functionality.

Lastly, I think (although we are far away from it) e-commerce integration will be easier with Google thanks to its experience with Google Wallet and Google Checkout.

Bottomline:

I don’t think there is a question whether brands should establish a presence on the platform. The question is when. Google is welcoming brands to enlist in a beta trial. I recommend you go add yourself to this list and if you have an in at Google, begin your conversations with them now so you can not only build your presence but work with Google in helping them define what that experience for brands and fans should be like.

Other Articles:

Singularity Hub: Fantastic and detailed review of Google+. If you have time, go read this now.

Watch-outs:

I’d been experiencing Facebook fatigue. With over 900 people in my list, it became quite a chore to figure out what to share with who. And I figured my network was feeling the same pressure which is why the quality of content in the newsfeed became drastically un-interesting for me over the last few months. I hid my photographs, I decreased the frequency of my status-updates and became overtly conscious of how much and what I was sharing.

Google Circles promises to eliminate this for me and so that excites me. Google Circles also is just fresh and crisper and I happen to trust Google more with my information and privacy than I ever trusted Facebook.

Having said that, one of my concerns is that users wont really understand how to use the circles or will get bored/tire of using them and begin spewing out content to everyone, relevant or not. I don’t want another Twitter. And it is a slipper post when a social network tries to be both Facebook and Twitter. So we’ll see what happens.

Right now, I’m fascinated with the notion of having my content, conversations and network in one place. If I can figure out how to navigate my identity across these circles, I probably won’t need Facebook or Skype or even Twitter any longer. Just my two cents.

Part 1- Digital Brand Building (What & Why)

Digital is a broad term and encompasses a variety of skill-sets and channels to achieve specific goals. There’s the usual paid, owned and earned each with an aligning goal. While they all contribute towards building a brand’s presence digitally, I’ve been seeing a lot more conversations and interest around how these, if they do at all, contribute towards differentiating a brand as a thought leader or building a positive brand presence. The term “thought leader” implies intelligence, knowledge, and a higher purpose and those claims need to be justified. That term is not appropriate for every brand – but every brand must strive for differentiation using the tools and channels afforded by digital. And there are different ways to earn it. For the purposes of these posts, I may use the terms digital thought-leadership and digital brand building interchangeably. I’ve tried to explore some of these questions that I’ve been thinking about for a while. (What is digital brand building; Associated Benefits, Implementations, Measurement & Case Studies)

WHAT IS DIGITAL BRAND BUILDING/ THOUGHT LEADERSHIP?

Thought-Leadership has long been the competing ground for organizations whose primary product is expertise or strategic advice. Think professional strategy firms, business schools and to a certain extent even advertising agencies that utilize its assets (top analysts, professors, research facilities) to author strategic POVS and create new strategy tools, in the hopes of gaining mind share of potential executives, clients and students. (The most famous example of thought leadership building is the 2003  BRIC report authored by Goldman Sach’s economist Jim O’Neill) I believe two absolutes set apart a brand that gets thought-leadership from one that doesn’t.

Solid POV: And this isn’t just the mission statement of the company, but an encapsulation of how the mission statement of the company manifests practically. An intelligent insight into what the company stands for, what it believes in and why. Zappos is the perfect embodiment of this value; for Zappos, Customer Service trumps all else and the company lives and breathes this dictum on an everyday basis (creating some very inspiring stories in the process – but we’ll get to that later)

The point of view must be singular and all actions (and in-actions) of the company must reinforce it. Whether it was through Tony Sheih’s book “Delivering Happiness” or through the Zappos HQ visits (open to everyone) – the company has a focused message and hones in on it through various channels.

I believe that it is key that the point-of-view be timely and culturally relevant. No one cares about a company mission if its only self-serving and not contextualized in culture, environment or a belief.

Benevolence: There are many ways to interpret this term. What I mean by benevolence is a disciplined approach to creating an inclusive dialogue around the brand’s POV. For some it means sharing the “insider” process, for others it means opening up their doors and the breaking the PR strategist rules. (Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, offers candid and honest answers to questions about Netflix operations, his POV on the business and where it is headed on Quora) Benevolence involves offering value but also allowing the community to create value.

Benevolence also applies to the culture at the company. We are living in fairly transparent times and with sites like Quora, Glassdoor, Vault, Twitter etc, consumers are able to discern the company culture. So when Reed Hastings publishes a Slideshare saying very honestly (and a tad bit clinically) that Netflix does not treat its employees as family, – as a reader and a believer, I respect that.

That said, I don’t think all brands that practice benevolence do it for good karma. Benevolence or community giving is a popular earned media trick – but often it ends up positively influencing the brand’s basic value system on some level.

Roger White of Pendry White Marketing Communications agrees and sums it up rather well when he says:

Thought Leaders do three things well.

  • They raise the profile of an issue and deepen understanding
  • They set the agenda with their industry peers.
  • They introduce new topics to the boards of potential and current clients in their chosen fields and they do these things over a prolonged timeframe

I couldn’t have said this better. This definition however, is not applicable to all brands. (A Skittles, Axe or Old Spice wouldn’t quite fit in this category, but they differentiate themselves in different ways.) What I want you to take away though, is that Thought leadership or Digital Brand building exists on a continuum and not at fixed points in history. It builds over existing brand truths and manifests them in ways that make sense to the audiences and fit contextually within the culture.

THE BENEFITS OF DIGITAL BRAND BUILDING

Digital brand building accelerates serendipitous stumbling of audiences into the brand’s experience set

The consumer purchase journey is no longer linear. According to this study by McKinsey, the evolved consumer journey has two key phases: Initial Consideration & Active Evaluation. In both these phases, consumers are likely to be influenced by friends and family but also have a propensity to seek out brand experiences, whether they are digital, in-store, or traditional. Screen shot 2011-05-05 at 10.40.48 AM

Most brands err on the side of creating a fantastic brand platform and compelling ad campaigns. But the channels for these are passive and linear. Brands aren’t yet considering the question: how can we accelerate serendipitous stumbling into our worlds? Digital brand experiences help create a persistent presence but also increase the likelihood of increasing opportunities for audience engagement and influencing them positively. It grants brand the promotion from the Consideration to the Evaluation stage – at which point the more rational elements kick in. (comparison shopping, information gathering etc)

Digital brand building enhances the perceived value awareness of the brand, thus accelerating arrival at purchase

While metrics are hard to find, the most important benefit of building thought leadership is to build value awareness and increase the perceived value of the brand/ product. Stronger digital brand experience, have a propensity to generate more earned media and provide additional fodder for search engines. As such, ownership of search results become critical in influencing brand evaluations. (A recent Nielsen and AOL study found that 53% of time spent online is directly attributable to content consumption. Out of which, nearly 60% of all shared content specifically mention a brand or product name.)

These thoughts are still in exploration and I will continue to sharpen and better this post as my own thinking evolves. My next post, I’ll focus more on the how, measurement and discuss some excellent case-studies.

Best Practices: Branded Mobile Applications

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what makes a branded application worth downloading and interacting with for consumers. I wanted to share some top-level thoughts here and hope that I can build on them in the coming weeks. My goal with this post is to provide you with a framework on how to think about a branded application. The final build and concept will vary from brand to brand but here are some principles and tools to think about how you can make the most of your investment into the mobile app. space.

Entertainment vs. Utility:

My research has led me to believe that branded applications usually fall under one of the two value propositions: Entertainment or Utility. I found an amazing chart compiled by Geoff Northcott, Client Partner at AKQA of publicly available download data for branded applications. Geoff, too, in his post categorized the applications as Entertainment or Utilitarian. Although these download numbers are circa 2010, I re-shuffled this data a little bit to make a point. I divided them into two separate charts: Entertainment vs. Utility and picked the best five branded applications in both sections with the highest download numbers.

Screen shot 2011-03-07 at 4.31.19 PM

The point of doing this was to illustrate some of the key benefits: pros and cons of Entertainment Vs. Utility in branded applications.

Entertainment:

  • PROS: A one-off promotion based approach to mobile applications usually delivers huge spikes in customer engagement and often shows significantly higher download numbers.
  • CONS: Brand recall – a large number of entertainment based mobile applications are game-based and as such, it is difficult to ascertain whether users are even aware of the brand when interacting with these applications. Another major con is sustaining on-going interaction with the brand. Interest wanes as the novelty wears off and often, there is little to no re-usage. In fact, 95% of downloaded applications are not used after 30 days. Under-utilized asset of x many customers that have downloaded the application.

Utility:

  • PRO: Evergreen application; perhaps not very sexy. Has a slower build initially but evolves and grows with the brand and its audiences. Usually also reflects the general brand direction
  • CONS: The biggest challenge with such an application is to continuously evolve the offering and keep it interesting and valuable to the consumers. It needs to strike the perfect balance of entertainment, content and utility

Most brands have taken an either/or approach. While I think it depends on the direction and the strategic needs of the brand, it is worthwhile to consider that it doesn’t always need to be an either/or approach. Entertainment based applications have demonstrated the ability to drive high downloads. Why not consider an “Entertainment” based feature as part of your Launch strategy for your branded application ? Ongoing updates can work on evolving the brand and adding newer features and offerings into the application.

Another point-of-view to consider is simply creating diverse applications for diverse audiences. Lets face it. A deal-hunter will not download a branded application for a highly engaging game. And a gamer will not be very interested in a content-based application. In such cases, it is smart for brands to consider which audiences they want to target and build experiences specifically for those niche audiences. My only caveat is that even as brands build niche experiences, it is crucial to think long-term instead of immediate short-tern return.

Kraft’s iFood Assistant is one of the best branded application case-study that I can think of that has nailed the program vs. platform concept. The application offers up to 2000 recipes, many of them using Kraft products. The application has also in-built shopping lists and deals/ coupon features that incentivize users. It is one of the few applications that has continued to keep its users engaged: It launched in 2008 and to date, about 60% of users that downloaded the application continue to use it. In fact, Kraft charged a cool 99cents per download as well, ensuring an alternative revenue stream and solidifying its value with the users.

Regardless of the route you choose, here are some best practices to keep in mind when designing and building the application:

Best Practices:

Marketing Support: Every successful branded application has had strong marketing support in form of paid media, mobile ads and even online PR. This support gives the initial boost to the application but mostly focuses on generating enough downloads to have the application listed in Apple’s Top 100 applications. Applications featured in the list have a 40% higher chance of being downloaded by other users. Additionally, Star Ratings and Reviews also incredibly important tools towards increasing a brand’s chances towards making it into the Top 100 list. Although this is specifically for iTunes, it is fair to expect similar marketing levers to emerge for the Android Marketplace as well. (Consiering Android is now the number one Smartphone in the word)

Intuitive User Experience: If you are not going to invest the necessary time and resources into building an intuitive and highly capable user experience, you are better off not making a mobile application at all. In a recent study, 13% of users said that  a bad experience with a branded application avoided them from downloading other applications from the brand. Also, users just expect an application to be fun and easy to use. Don’t just try to replicate an existing marketing promotion, elements of your website or an ad campaign on your mobile app. Build for its audience and its eco-system.

Social Sharing: Maximize the capabilities offered by a mobile application. Several applications can “speak” to each other. Also there is no point in reinventing the wheel. So where and when possible; make sure your application is connected to Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or whatever eco-system your brand lives in.

Customization: Depending on the brand, I believe that simple customization not only helps make an application more interesting but also increases the opportunity for re-use. It’s also highly beneficial for brands from a data-collection perspective to have more granular information about your customers.

I’m sure you’ll want to look at case-studies to build your own argument/ case. I didn’t see any point in re-writing the best ones there are. So here are the links to the best resources on the web. I hope this helps.

Additional Resources:

  1. Mashable’s Top 13 Branded Applications
  2. Best Practices: Mobile Marketing & App. Strategies for Food Brands
  3. Best Practices: Branded Application Design
  4. Geoff Northcott: Branded Apps: Strategies for Success

Why Quora.com will be successful

Twitterati has suddenly recognized Quora and is wondering if it’s the flavor of the month. I joined Quora sometime ago and have found it profoundly useful. There are three main reasons why I’m betting on Quora.com.

1. Content: Quora.com has created a mediated space between Twitter and long-form blog content. Twitter took away the need to write thoughtful, long-form posts. Social media has created an opinionated culture that now demands a deeper level of discourse than 140 characters. Quora has not only validated, but bought back the need for long-form content. Because it is a very specific environment and framework, it actually enhances the user experience by creating mini-communities within one large platform. If Twitter is where we eat pop-corn, Quora is where we go for a glass of wine and some debate.

2. Quality: I’ve never been a fan of anonymous comments on blogs