When Chicago failed in its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, President Barack Obama elected to use a sports metaphor to soften the blow. "You can play a great game and still not win," noted the First Chicagoan upon his return from Copenhagen.
As we move into 2010 -- and toward the Vancouver Winter Olympics in February -- marketers will be facing Olympic hurdles themselves that will require steadfast agility just to stay in the game, much less to hit the finish line ahead of the competition. Here are 10 ideas that should deliver the gold.
1. Social media: A marathon, not a sprint
Hoping to become fast friends with their targets, a lot of brands rushed into Facebook and Twitter in the last 24 months without investing sufficient time or resources. In 2010, savvy marketers will increase their commitment to social media by first listening and then offering up a steady stream of engaging content that their fans actually want. This will be particularly true for B2B brands, only 38 percent of which included social media in their 2008 marketing plans (compared to 71 percent of B2C brands).
One comScore study indicated that branded social media activities can have a multiplier effect on search results, providing a quantifiable rationale for brands to up the social media ante in 2010.
2. Mashups: Taking inspiration from biathlons
A few innovative marketers took a shot at mashups in 2009. E.P. Carrillo, a new cigar manufacturer, created a mesmerizing Twitter and Google Maps mashup for its "coming soon" site that tracks cigar tweets from around the world. In 2010, these kinds of mashups will become smoking hot as marketers look to extend the value of their social media activities. Recognizing that tech-savvy consumers glide seamlessly between personal and business, online and offline, mobile and desktop, farsighted marketers will bring together formerly disparate elements into a cohesive and self-perpetuating social media experience.
3. App happy: On your mark, get set, go crazy
Given the success a handful of marketers enjoyed with their "apps" in 2009, expect a blaze of new entries in 2010. iPhone apps that provide demonstrable utility like Kraft's iFood Assistant recipe finder, Benjamin Moore's color matcher, and Zipcar's GPS-based car finder will continue to gain traction. Expect more apps that integrate with other social media like the Gap StyleMixer that allows you to mix and match clothes and share them with friends on Facebook.
And don't forget the non-iPhone universe. The steakhouse Maloney & Porcelli cooked up a humorous and somewhat deviant web-based app Expense-A-Steak that extrudes faux expense reports that look stunningly authentic.
4. Measure up: Track every second
With more dollars earmarked for social media, marketers will undoubtedly use new tools to monitor the conversations that are happening with or without them. Radian6 and Scout Labs emerged in 2009 as two of the leading social media monitoring tools. Molson Coors uses Radian6 to stay on top of all the banter about its major brands, allowing it to respond with remarkable speed to one of my blog posts about a Coors Light Twitter account that turned out to be unofficial.
And while these tools are great, each requires a sizeable commitment by the marketer in time of staff, a commitment that can and does pay off. Just ask JetBlue, which manages to enhance customer loyalty daily by responding to any and every customer tweet within minutes. JetBlue follows 117,000 people on Twitter, generating more than 1.3 million followers for itself.
5. POV power: Don't just talk the talk
While lots of brands raced into social media in 2009, few established true connections with their targets. The reality is that consumers engage with brands they like on a visceral level and that provide a distinct perspective on the world. Aflac's Duck quacks up a gaggle of quirky content, including charitable requests that appeal to more than 161,000 fans on Facebook and more than 3,000 followers on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Geico's Gecko has been left in the social media dust due to its surprisingly dry and unresponsive online voice. Ironically, a brand by definition is a point-of-view that, once clearly defined, should guide all communications, social or otherwise.
6. Expose yourself: Win the crowd with honesty
The emergence of several "tell all" consumer-created sites signals the arrival of a new era of honesty and transparency, especially for brands targeting those under 35. Sites like fmylife.com, textsfromlastnight.com, and MyParentsJoinedFacebook.com reflect a generation willing to bare and share all without the least trepidation.
Even the emergence of "Untag Mondays" speaks to the socially acceptable norm of posting embarrassing content that one might not want a parent or employer to see. Marketers that share this sense of honesty, that admit mistakes and address shortcomings in real-time, will find a youthful army of comrades willing to do their bidding. As Comcast discovered, this kind of honesty can even transform a PR nightmare like ComcastMustDie.com into an industry-leading customer service, like its Comcast Cares Twitter pages.
7. Hold the presses: Major comebacks are possible
Though a 50-percent decline in ad pages certifies 2009 as the worst year in print's history, don't write it off as a viable media channel just yet. More than 80 percent of U.S. consumers still subscribe to at least one magazine and 83 percent believe newspapers are still relevant, according to MediaPost.
Experimenting with video in print publications like Entertainment Weekly is but one of the ways certain magazine segments will hold onto their targets and satisfy advertisers. Fashion magazines and enthusiast publications continue to offer a visual showcase that is far superior to what most online magazines can serve up. Models, both human and auto, simply look prettier in print.
And while Procter & Gamble shut down its 72-year-old TV soap opera Guiding Light in 2009, it is cranking up the presses with a custom-published glossy, Rouge, that it expects to reach a whopping 11 million North American households in 2010.
8. Go to the video: Separate from the pack
The emergence of viral video rankings in 2009 reflected the mainstreaming of this approach to audience engagement.
While everyone and their branded brother aspired to cut through with a viral hit, surprisingly few found an audience. In 2010, marketers will undoubtedly crank out more of the same, while a savvy few will worry less about mass reach and focus more on grassroots appeal, providing content that their core targets really want. B2B marketers in particular will find that using informative videos that transform the complicated into the comprehensible, like Commoncraft's Plain English videos, will generate quality leads from grateful prospects.
9. Mobile media: Catching up at last
Despite all the hype by this author and others, less than a third of marketers had a budget for mobile in 2009. In 2010, smartphone penetration should rise to at least 25 percent (from 17 percent in Q2 '09), making it a lot easier to deliver a rich mobile experience worthy of consumer attention. The blending of mobile and social apps like Facebook, Loop'd, and Twitter has also created a new openness toward this medium.
Given the desirable demographics (18- to 34-year-olds with household incomes of more than $75,000) of smartphone owners, marketers should, at the very least, give strong consideration to creating a mobile friendly website, thus allowing prospects to engage whenever and wherever they happen to be.
10. Be positive: Attitude is everything
While honesty is a worthy friend to marketers, don't forget that almost no one wants to date a Debbie Downer. A recent Adweek/Harris poll found "relatively little enthusiasm and lots of indifference for ads that refer to the downturn." Even if the economy is slow to recover in 2010, find the silver lining for your customers and prospects with both words and actions. Like the athletes whose positive outlooks and superior skills propel them to victory, so too can marketers find success with an upbeat message and an unimpeachable value proposition.
Go for the gold in 2010
While 2009 hasn't been much fun for most marketers, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the approaching year. There are more ways than ever to engage with consumers and a new willingness from consumers to engage with brands. Marketers are showing a renewed desire to listen to their customers and offer "marketing as service" that favors the dissemination of meaningful value over disruptive messaging.
To borrow the words of the President after Chicago's disappointing Olympic bid this year, "Although I wish that we had come back with better news, I could not be prouder."
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