Social Media is Better for Experiential Products

Paul Mabray is the chief strategy officer for the wine industry digital think tank, Vintank. Paul is a 17 year veteran in the wine industry and is a regular speaker and blogger.

The race is on.  Everyone is endeavoring to decipher the Rosetta Stone that is Social Media.  Unfortunately, by definition the medium is multi-dimensional and the real applications of social media range from customer support & communication, content distribution, sales, marketing, PR, business intelligence and well beyond.  With all these facets to consider, is it any wonder that there is no silver bullet?
However, a certain segment of industries are positioned to be better served by this medium.  Experiential products clearly stand to benefit more from social media.
Why?  Because social media is fundamentally a channel for sharing and it is inherently human nature to share our experiences.  How many people really enjoy talking about soap? Pencils?  Dishwashers?  Of course, there is dialogue about these types of  products (most of them relate to the buying experience or the quality, or lack thereof,  about the product)  Yes, it is possible to create campaigns to artificially stimulate dialogue about a brand or product.  However, the interaction that occur as a result of natural engagement are more relevant, meaningful, and enduring.  In essence, industries that offer meaningful experiences like wine, food, restaurants, travel, software, and entertainment are natural conduits for conversations that occur on the web.  People enjoy sharing their personal stories and experiences related to these products.  They are vocal and they are prolific. For example, the wine industry and the specialized site Cellartracker.com.  With 140K users this single site has generated 1.8 million conversations about wine.  In fact, in 2010 social media sites generated over 13 million conversations about wine by 3 million online profiles.  KAPOW!

A recent article citing research from IBM suggests that SM consumers do not want intimate relationships with Brands.  This report states that they are primarily looking for tangible benefits from a relationship (discounts, commerce) and they rank “feeling connected” and “part of the community” far lower.  This is not unexpected for traditional retail and non- experiential products.  Do we really want to feel part of the Best Buy community?  Is it important for us to feel part of the Amazon tribe?  How deeply do we really want to be related to Skittles?
Experiential products allow us to feel emotionally attached and we DO want to be “connected” to these brands— and as a result we are more passionate and vocal about them.  Whether it is a restaurant that has created a memorable experience, a wine that we love, a rock band, a movie, video game, or even a software platform (that’s why companies have dedicated UEX departments) we DO crave more of a relationship with those products.  Equally as important, there is always a very active “prosumer” base that evangelizes and helps spread the message to more and more potential consumers.  These voices are the true influencers in the ecosphere that prostelyze for the brand allowing these brands to be “discovered” via social media through sharing, commenting in forums, “Liking”, and retweeting.  They are also prolific about creating content and messages to help influence potential new customers buying decisions. 
Need proof ? Just look at a company that transcends product and focuses on experience:  Apple.  How many blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts do you see about their products?  
Want other examples? 
Check out the volume of comments and user generated content for the game BioShock
Or the  number of Tweets about Lady GaGa.
Or real experiences being shared on the Fan Page of Morton’s Steak House.
What is most relevant is the natural phenomenon that inspires people to want to authentically share stories about brands and products. There is no need for clever marketing campaigns, to create gimmicks to get your consumers to engage in your community, and no need to create contests to stimulate conversations.
Why is this important?  The major transcendence of social media is how, who and where we get our information.  My good friend Doug Cook (founder of Ablegrape.com and former director of search for Twitter) has an amazing saying, “search is the fiber that connects the web.” He is absolutely correct.  There is nothing you can’t find on the web if you know what you are looking for.  Whether it is the most obscure book or replacement part for your 1972 dishwasher, search engines can help you find anything. What search cannot help you do is discover.  That is the role of Social Media.  Seeing authentic (not artificially induced) comments (positive or negative) about brands from people we trust encourages us to explore.  With non-experiential products, brands are almost forced to create gimmicks, marketing campaigns, or contests to stimulate conversation or engagement.  With experiential products, this occurs naturally, without artificial stimulation, and authentically from within our own out networks.  Social media is the human fiber for sharing and discovery. 
The question is, no matter what kind of product you have, are you making it experiential? 

Onboarding and Engaging with Location Based Services

Next Wednesday, I’m speaking at a very cool event in Chicago called the Bricks + Mobile Conference. If you’re in the area, you should absolutely plan to attend (I may even be able to finagle you a discount). I mention this because I’m on a panel with some very smart people including:

  • Tim Hayden, CMO 44Doors (moderator)
  • Adam Beaugh, Director of Social Media, Jackson Family Wines
  • David Javitch, VP of Marketing, Scanlife
  • Jessica Rotnicki-Magaro, Vice President Ecommerce North America, Estee Lauder Companies
The reason I got asked to be on the panel (I think) is that I am now the head of location based marketing at global agency, WCG and am also co-authoring a book called Location Based Marketing for Dummies. In the book, my co-author, Mike Schneider, and I are focusing on how businesses — large and small — are tapping into the power of location based marketing. This starts with goals and offers and ends with platforms, measurement and analytics.
One of the main things that Mike and I are focusing on in the book is how businesses can derive real business value by engaging with their customers using location based services. To that end, loyalty is a major outcome that many of the companies like McDonalds, Neiman Marcus and USA Today are seeking as they engage using platforms like foursquare, SCVNGR and Whrrl.
But before companies get to loyalty through regular (hopefully fun and/or educational) interactions with their customers, is there role that location based services can play when it comes to on-boarding and engaging their customers? Of course there is.
For starters, any company that is engaging in location based marketing should consider offers that are not only universal (mayor offers are somewhat overrated), but also that encourage initial and then repeat behavior. There is a local coffeeshop/theater here in Austin, TX called the Hideout that does a nice job on this front. Their offer gives you a 2 for 1 ticket to the theater on your 1st, 5th and 10th checkins (and free admission for the mayor). This provides immediate value the first time you checkin but also keeps you checking in (and ideally coming back) to continue to get your discount.
Where the Hideout (and many other companies fall down) is not letting their customers who aren’t using location base services that there is an offer. Why not have a poster up on the wall, a sign on the front door and a trained barista that asks you if you’ve checked in? Creating a compelling offer and then letting your customers know about it is key.
Another thought when it comes to on-boarding is what if you could check into your new television? Or laptop? Or box of Cheerios? And what if when you checked in you got special instructions (plus a reward)? Well, there are services that are starting to provide this type of functionality like GetGlue. And as of two days ago, GetGlue just announced a partnership with Lionsgate offering 40% off the Blueray DVD set of AMC’s popular tv show, Madmen. While this partnership doesn’t do much by way of “on-boarding,” they are creating fun, excitement and engagement with Madmen fans.
Is your company using location based marketing to on-board, engage and create loyalty with your customers? If so, post about it in the comments section below.

Memories and Milestones

Last night, my friend and former colleague, Rusty Williams, sent me a direct message on Twitter alerting me to the fact that I was on the precipice of a milestone. Sitting at 39,999 tweets, I was one away from my 40,000 update, which if you think about it is a lot. Just think about it… what have you done 40,000 times in your life (if anything)?

As I got thinking, I realized that it would be nice to celebrate this milestone with something worthy, something that helped others, because as I look back through my first 39,999 tweets, I realize just how lucky I am — both personally and professionally. Over the last four and half years that I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve met some amazing people and my family and I have benefited from this experience both personally and professionally.

In the past, I’ve taken different approaches to milestone tweets. I’ve been silly and done the fake retirement thing. I’ve also used the opportunity to dedicate tweets to friends like Jennifer Leggio who have helped me grow and expand my boundaries in social media. But this time, I want it to be different. This time, I want to do something good with my 40,000 update. Something that helps people in need and for those of us that aren’t in need, reminds us to pause and celebrate how lucky we are.

Here’s my plan and I’d like your help:

  • I just donated $150 to the #SXSWCares which my friends Deb Ng and Leigh Durst helped kick off at South by Southwest Interactive this year. I encourage you to donate too but I also know that money can be tight.
  • After a massive disaster like the one created by the Tsunami in Japan (and now the nuclear fallout) people tend to move on soon after the dust settles. To help keep this fresh in our minds for at least a little while longer, I ask that you retweet this post (there is a RT button at the top of the post) to help spread the word.
  • Once I get to 100 RTs, I will then donate 25 of my next 100 tweets, not just the #SXSWCares but to whatever cause you would like me to (within reason of course). Just leave the name of the cause, the link and a quick blurb as to why this cause is important to you in the comments below and I will make sure it gets tweeted to the people I’m connected with on Twitter.

Thank you in advance for helping me celebrate this marvelous milestone and the multiple memories I’ve had over my last 39,999 tweets.

Special thanks to: Kyle Flaherty, Jim Storer, Geoff Livingston, David Armano, Chris Brogan and Ken Burbary for helping me think through this.

Samsung Curates SXSWi on their Media Wall

No, this isn’t my annual South by Southwest (SXSW) wrap up post. Instead, this is a little shout out to my friends at Samsung, a company I’ve admired for a while now. I don’t have any formal relationship with them although they were kind enough to make me a VIP of the Blogger Lounge, one of my all time favorite places to hang out (and yes, that included a little high-end schwag).

Full disclosure aside, one of the things I love about this company is that they are doing something really smart with their sponsorship dollars at SXSW. Instead of just sponsoring a booth or putting up some giant signs, they worked with JESS3 to create something called the media wall. In the two videos below, I talk to Samsung social media manager, Esteban Contreras, about how they are curating — one of my favorite topics — the best of the best content [twitter, Flickr, SlideShare, check-ins, conference sessions, etc.] and posting it up on a giant wall.

Also good for all you SXSW goers who wish they had a way of collecting the best of what SXSWi had to offer, this feed should help.

In the first video clip, you’ll hear Esteban talk about the Samsung feed/video wall.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Hufyjc7GWI?hl=en]

In the second video clip, we’ll get to see the wall up close and see the beautiful screen of awesome in full effect.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_SYiqJTMJE?hl=en]

Thanks again to Samsung for helping make my SXSWi a better experience!

What About The Rest of The World?

This is a continuation of a series of guest blog posts. Today’s post comes from good friend and social media big brain, Jason Falls. Jason is a leading thinker on the social media marketing space. He blogs at SocialMediaExplorer.com and is bridging the gap by offering ExploringSocialMedia.com, a learning community geared toward teaching technology, digital and social media marketing to anyone who needs the help.

Insanity seems normal when you live in the asylum. Or so I keep reminding myself of the echo chamber that has emerged in our lovely little Web 2.0 world.

The technologists and developers and marketers and bloggers alike love to throw out statistics to prove their little world is the norm. We (and I’m in the middle of it, too) consistently point to the future as being online, connected, mobile or whatever … so long as it doesn’t involve ink or broadcast waves.
But we’re wrong.

Sure, you can throw out Pew Internet and American Life statistics all you want. But you didn’t look them up yourself, have no idea of the context of the questions asked and don’t realize there’s so much missing from the research.

Sure, 79 percent of U.S. adults use the Internet. But the statistic is “use” the internet, not follow you on Twitter. Why aren’t we asking how well they use the Internet?

You know what percentage of the U.S. adult population has broadband in their home? Sixty-six percent. One in three people are still on dial-up, Jethro.

So the social fanatics want to say my doomsday drill down is a myth? Pew also tells us that of the 74 percent of U.S. adults online in 2009, the activities they used the web for were, in order, watching videos; getting information about a job; sending instant messages; downloading music and playing games. And of those, only watching videos was more than half of U.S. adults. Social networking? Thirty-five percent. Reading blogs? Thirty-two.

Now, before you go all math on me and say, “Well, 32 percent of U.S. adults is still like 100 million people.” Sure, but keep in mind you are in an industry that thinks a 2% click thru rate on an ad and a 25% open rate on an email are good. Your logic is that the more bullets you spray, the more unsuspecting consumers you’ll hit.

How about we focus on the 68 percent that don’t read blogs? Or the 98 percent that don’t click on search ads? Or the 75 percent that don’t open your shitty emails?

At a trade show for retailers in a niche industry recently, I spoke with over 150 individuals about digital marketing. One-fourth of them … 25 percent … didn’t have a website. Talking social media to them was like talking retirement when they couldn’t even pay their mortgage.

Think that anecdotal data is misleading? How about the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business’s Center for Excellence in Service State of Small Business Report from January of this year? The study, sponsored by Network Solutions (disclosure: I’m on their social media advisory board), showed that only 56 percent of small business owners currently have a website. (Fourty-four percent of small businesses are NOT online.) Only 66 percent say they plan to in the next two years.
Think that’s a shocker? Would you believe that when asked how often these companies that do have website update them, 41 percent said no more frequently than every 4-9 months. Ten percent said they update them less than once per year.

Social media use? Just 31 percent have a presence now with 46 percent planning one. Flip the notion before you nod in positive agreement: 69 percent of small businesses are NOT using social media.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are 1.2 million businesses in the United States with 10 or more employees. There are 4.5 million with nine employees or fewer. Would you believe that 98 percent of business in America are small businesses? (Those with less than 100 employees.)
That’s a big market place of people out there that aren’t checking in on Foursquare, aren’t following you on Twitter and don’t read your precious blog.

There exists a huge gap between those that know the web and those that don’t. And it’s high time we start being honest with ourselves and realize that social media types are not only in the minority, if web usage were religion, we’d be a fringe cult. No, this doesn’t mean the Feds should come blow up our commune. But we’ve got a lot of work to do before real people — those outside the echo chamber — are here to play.

If we don’t start bridging the gap and helping mainstream consumers understand and embrace social media marketing, the dot-com bust is going to seem like a market correction.
So, what are you doing to bridge the gap?

Twitter, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, and the Irresistible Heroes of the School Cafeteria

The following is one in a series of guest posts on the Citizen Marketer 2.1 blog. In addition to being a good friend, Liz Strauss is CEO of SOBCon, a business strategies event, and founder at Inside-Out Thinking, a leadership, loyalty, and customer care training business. She is the author of Successful-blog.com You’ll find her on Twitter as @lizstrauss.

I admit it I was a school geek. Everything about the school experience made me more curious. The good teachers took advantage of that. The not so good ones did their best to ignore it. I was curious about how everyone did things, who they were, why they cared about what they cared about, and the most interesting place of the whole school to me was the school cafeteria.

Back in the olden days, I was short and school books were light because the world had less information. School cafeterias still had cooks and ovens in which they cooked homemade food. Of course, being part of a school, laws and rules set the diet about what they could offer their patrons. For example, every day had to include one serving of bread with the meal. Each month the recommended diet included a huge portion of natural honey as an ingredient.

The brilliant nutritionist, Helen, that ran the school cafeteria knew her customers — us kids well. So rather than using that honey in bits along the way she used it once a month to deliver a powerful WOW! She mixed the honey into a huge vat of peanut butter to make the most delicious spread.It was secret mixture I’ve never been fully able to replicate.

That day every month every kid — even the ones who didn’t like peanut butter — asked for two helpings of bread. Those peanut butter side sandwiches became the currency of the lunch table. Kids traded for favors, to mend friendships, score homework help, and to meet new kids in other classes.

Peanut butter sandwiches were social media at its best.

Helen understood that when you give your customers something spectacular that only you can give, the result is something that your customers can’t help but share and talk about. Helen had turned a sandwich into an event. The whole school was connected in a quest to enjoy the best peanut butter sandwiches in the land.

Kids I went to school with still talk about Peanut Butter Day. Helen had a whole school of fiercely loyal fans.

Why Austin Rocks (and Why You Want to Work Here)

There’s something unusual going on the universe. I’m not sure what force is behind it but about 3-4 years ago, a new set of “railroad” tracks of sorts — that of the virtual variety — were laid down coming from locales north, east and northeast to a little old town in Texas called Austin. Well, Austin’s actually not that little. And it happens to be the capitol of Texas. But that’s besides the point. The key here is that some of the smartest social business minds in the country are flocking in droves to the live music capital of the world.

While I don’t necessarily consider myself in that set of “smartest social business minds,” I have worked in the community/social media for business space for the last five plus years. And two and a half years ago, that same force I referenced in the first paragraph drew me like a migratory bird to the ATX (a cutesy little name we like to use to reference the capitol city). Of course it didn’t hurt that my former company, Powered, was recruiting me to become their CMO. But that was only one of a dozen factors that played into my attraction to the great city of Austin.

At the risk of rambling on for too long, you’ll notice that in this post [orchestrated by one of those great minds, Peter Kim] that a number of the Austin transplants I referenced earlier have weighed in on why they decided to move here to work (or in some cases, stay).

Peter Kim’s post is here.
Virginia Miracle’s post is here.
Kathy Mandelstein’s post is here.
Greg Matthews post is here.
Spike Jone’s post is here.
Kate Niederhoffer’s post is here.

And to directly “borrow” Peter’s closing quote…

“Our town will soon welcome 15,000+ visitors for SXSWi. You might be one of them. If so, while you’re here I encourage you to think about the nice people, great weather, low cost of living, live music, nationally recognized public schools, BBQ and breakfast tacos, and the growing community of your peers that call this town home. I know all of the people on this post are seeking great talent to join their firms and you might want to drop an inquiry or two while you’re here. (Click here for [WCG's] open positions.)

I have no regrets about leaving that brand new house behind in Boston, because we’re building the social business capital of the world.

Any interest in joining us?”

It’s Truck Day

Nearly two and a half years ago I announced that I was packing up my belongings and moving down to Austin from a place I had called home for most of my life. When I decided to head south, not only was I leaving a comfortable job as VP of social media at a company called Mzinga, I was also saying goodbye to most of my family and many of my friends that I had grown to know over the years.

Since then, I’ve had an amazing run that’s included meeting hundreds of new friends both here in Austin and all over the country; helping my company, Powered, acquire three other companies; working closely with two of my colleagues (and good friends), Joe Jaffe and Greg Verdino to launch and market their books; landing several great new clients; securing a book deal of my own with friend and co-author, Mike Schneider, to write Location Based Marketing for Dummies; and then ultimately getting acquired by social business consultancy, Dachis Group.

As you can imagine, getting acquired is not an insignificant thing. Throw in the fact that the company acquiring Powered is the largest social business consultancy in the world AND I happen to be friends with the managing director (Peter Kim) and CEO (Jeff), along with several other folks that work there and you have the potential for something pretty incredible. I tried to convey some of this excitement in the post I wrote on the day we announced the acquisition. To that end, I’m a huge believer in the power of social business design and I have been for years. But…

Yes, you knew there was a “but” coming, especially based on the title of this post (more on that in a minute). In spite of my respect for Jeff, Peter, Kate, April, Bryan and all my former Powered colleagues like Natanya AndersonKevin Tate, Greg Rau, Steve Kleinberg and Jen van der Meer, I’ve decided to once again pack up the bags and move my little old self over to another company called WCG. This time, the move requires a lot less distance and many fewer goodbyes. Fortunately for my family and me, WCG has one of their offices here in Austin so I’ll just be about four blocks down the street from my old office.

At the end of the day, this has zero to do with me leaving a great company with a ton of smart people and a winning game plan. Instead, it has everything to do with me joining another great company with a ton of smart people and a winning game plan… but with a personal mandate of focusing on location based marketing. And as I mentioned earlier when I mentioned my book deal, I’m very passionate about helping companies figure out how to tap into the power of mobile and location based services like foursquare, Gowalla, Whrrl, Where and Bizzy to deepen customer loyalty.

With perhaps the longest preamble in history… that brings us to the topic of Truck Day. For any of you that follow baseball closely, you might know that “Truck Day” is the day where Major League Baseball Teams pack up their trucks and head south to the likes of Florida and Arizona to kick off spring training. Any of you that follow me on Facebook or Twitter also know that I am a HUGE Red Sox fan so after a long, baseball-less winter, I get really excited about things like Truck day because it means that the season is just around the corner. Seeing that today is my first day in the office at WCG, I look at this as my “truck day” or my day to kick off what I expect will be an amazing journey.

Before I forget, however, I would like to take a minute to thank the Powered team with special shout outs to Natanya, Kathy, Ron, Ken and David. You took a chance on me two and a half years ago and as a result we all had the opportunity to hold on for what turned out to be a crazy yet fulfilling ride. In addition, I want to thank Jeff Dachis and Peter Kim for being such good friends, supporting my decision and helping me through the transition. And finally, to Bob Pearson and Jim Weiss for giving me this fantastic opportunity to join the WCG team (this is also where I give a big hat tip to my friend, Greg Matthews, for helping start up the conversation between Bob, Jim and myself). Oh, and of course my loving wife, Melanie, who has been nothing but supportive through the entire process.

Now it’s time to PLAY BALL!



image courtesy http://msmaggiemoo.blogspot.com/

Solis Joins Team Altimeter

Wow! Big news today for Brian Solis and the good folks at research-based advisory firm, Altimeter (Jeremiah Owyang and Charlene Li’s gig). According to my friend, Jeremiah, Brian will be joining the firm as a principal focusing on “change management, social business and helping Altimeter’s clients adopt disruptive technologies.”

Charlene Li, , Brian Solis & Jeremiah Owyang (credit: Solis)

Given Brian’s meteoric rise over the last couple of years that culminated with his interview of news anchor, Katie Couric, last fall, this is a big win for Altimeter. It will be interesting to see how Brian — a two time author that cut his teeth in the PR world — will make the leap to analyst. Given the content Brian creates and covers on his blog, I have not doubt that if anyone can make the shift, Brian can.

By way of fun background, I’ve done podcasts with Charlene (co-interviewing Charlene with Jim Storer at the Community 2.0 Conference in 2008), Brian (TechSet, 2009) and Jeremiah (via the phone). I know all three personally and am excited for them as this will be big news for a group that is already moving and shaking. When you see them at SXSW, make sure to congratulate them!

To that end, Altimeter’s growth won’t stop with Solis. According to Jeremiah, they are also hiring in a few other fields such as mobile, business intelligence, and digital media and advertising.

Bizzy Checks Out

Over the past few months, my co-author, Mike Schneider, and I have been keeping a closer eye on local business recommendation engine, Bizzy. Mike and I have both know VP of marketing, Ryan Kuder and community manager, Elysa Rice for a while. And I was lucky enough to have Ryan on the Quick’n'Dirty podcast show a few months back (Ryan was definitely one of our more engaging guests).

The reason I bring up Bizzy is that they are announced a groundbreaking new feature today called the “check-out.” Yes, many of us that use location based services like foursquare and Gowalla are quite familiar with the concept of “checking-in” to a location. But checking out? What’s that all about. Well, the key is that Bizzy doesn’t care which service you use to check in. But when you are ready to check out, you can leave a simple review. As you can see in the screen shot to the left, this can be as simple as picking one of the three faces to let you know what you thought of the business you just patronized. Or, you can leave a Twitter-esque review that gets added to the tip of that particular venue.

Bizzy was kind enough to let Mike and I play with this functionality for the last week or so. My initial thoughts are that I like the new functionality a lot. In particular, I liked the ability to add my $.02 on the location I was visiting which I often forget to do when I’m checking into a venue. The interface was very easy to use given how simple and straightforward it was.

With that said, there are a couple of things I’d like to see in the future:

  1. It would be nice if Bizzy physically checked you out of the location using the service you checked in with e.g. Gowalla, Facebook Places, foursquare. I know this is tricky because I don’t believe any of these services currently offer up a “limbo” or “I’m not checked in anywhere” state which would be required.
  2. I know I was testing an alpha version of the product (using a very cool development environment called Test Flight) but sometimes I couldn’t always find the venue I checked into to check out of. For instance, I went to a local festival here in Austin on Sunday and while I was able to check in on Gowalla [Austin Kite Festival at Zilker Park], I wasn’t able to check out on Bizzy. Hopefully this is a matter of expanding the geo-database over time and making it more real time.

If you don’t use Bizzy yet, I’d suggest checking it out. They provide some great local recommendations based on information you provide. And with the added bonus of the check out, you can now review all your favorite (or un-favorite) venues in seconds.