Multimedia Chat Points to Future Online Behavior

Update: Now that Mark Zuckerberg’s sister inadvertently has sent out a pic of her and her fam using facebook’s new temporary photo sharing app, I thought it appropriate to update this post and resend it given new context. I hope you find it’s pov meaningful to you!

My kids (12 and 1415) are perceptive when it comes to my interests in all things digital, so recently, when they told me about a new service called “SnapChat“, an iphone app that let’s you send a photo and message to your friends “privately”, I paid attention. How is it private? With two key new features: 1) the picture is only viewable for a fixed number of seconds (that you, the sender, chooses), AND, the app won’t allow you to take screen grabs.

In related news, the founders of Napster, and heavy hitting Silicon Valley movers and shakers (Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake in “the Social Network”) and Sean Fanning) have introduced a new video chatting service called “Airtime” that connects people based on their Facebook profiles. What is it? How does it work? Essentially, it will allow 2 types of video chat. First is a very simple UI to give you video connections with your existing Facebook friends. This isn’t really interesting though as Facebook already has video chatting built in through their partnership with Skype.

What interesting is that the service will randomly match you with others who share your existing Facebook interests. So if you like wine, walks on the beach, the Cincinnati Reds, the movies “Stripes” and “Dog Day Afternoon”, the service touts it’s ability to find you matches who you can  chat with, live, who share your interests.

Both of these new services relate to two subjects I’ve blogged about previously. The war for “messaging” platform leadership between Google and Facebook and the ongoing battle between the conflicting human needs for connection and privacy. These two new services make those subjects ripe for further exploration.

First, SnapChat. I believe this speaks to the digital native’s desire, or dare i say requirement, for privacy within their digital communications. All of us, and hopefully our kids, have heard the news that “What goes on the internet, stays on the internet.” This is certainly true, and certainly a barrier to folks who want to have the same rights to privacy that they hold in their non-digital lives. SnapChat, and other “private” messaging services have been created solely to fulfill this need.

Next, Airtime. Anyone remember ChatRoulette? It debuted as an anonymous random peer-to-peer video chat application. You never knew who you would be paired with, and those with whom you were paired remained entirely anonymous. Given that there were zero community controls or repercussions, ChatRoulette quickly became a place for nudity spammers and others who were not behaving. A mere curiosity. But one that gained immediate exposure in digital circles as something to be aware of, even if only as a model. It opens up endless communications possibilities in theory.

Airtime aims to fix all the negatives about ChatRoulette. Because you sign in with your Facebook account, you are immediately accountable for your behavior. To protect users further, the service monitors activity looking for signals of misbehavior (nudity, etc) and removes transgressors immediately. You are allowed to keep your privacy as long as you wish when chatting with strangers, or reveal your identity as you wish. Who will use this service? Initially, I believe it will be the curious, the lonely, and the social scientists among us who plumb the depths of human behavior. Eventually, I can see a service like this becoming mainstream as the barriers of video chat interest continue to come down and video chatting experiences like Google Hangouts continue to mature and gain acceptance.

Will these new services have impact on your online behavior? Maybe not with SnapChat, but imagine that twitter, or even Facebook decided to allow a “private” messaging capability that erased your content after a short viewing window for your specifically intended audience? Wouldn’t you consider using that feature on occasion if not regularly? If it takes off as a behavior, what will that mean to marketers who are beginning to depend on the data available from sources like the Twitter “firehose”? Could it kill the nascent “Sentiment Analysis” craze that companies like Radian6 are leveraging?

Maybe not with Airtime, but eventually, businesses are going to be looking to engage with their customers via video chat. If both parties can identify positive opportunities for connecting, might it not lead to new ways to gather information, learn new stuff, be entertained, accomplish account service tasks, even buy stuff?

I can’t wait to find out. What do you think of these new communications opportunities? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Advertising as a Service

When I started my digital marketing career in 1996, I was lucky enough to work for a company who was run by visionaries. The company was Modem Media, and one of the founders was a guy named GM O’Connell (well, he’s still named that!). One of the many things I learned from him was the idea that digital made possible the idea of “advertising as a service” and it seems that many brands are finally starting to figure out what that means now here in 2011, 15 years later.

How did Modem Media define “Advertising as a Service”? It’s advertising so useful that you are compelled to engage with it and in so doing, achieve the brands marketing objectives, whether brand awareness or lead generation, or real time customer service leading to loyalty. That said, GM’s take today is that AaaS has become all the more important and available to brands as Web Services and APIs continue to proliferate. Google Maps’ API being leveraged in a brand’s “store locator” is great advertising for Google as a whole, and all because they created a service and had it distributed to where it was most useful. Same as when you can track your package on a retailer’s website: great advertising for FedEx or UPS.

To quote GM O’Connell: “The idea of advertising as a service cam out of the fact that people back then (and probably still) don’t read or watch the web as much as they use it, and if you don’t create “useful” advertising, then it will tend to be out of place and ignored.  the problem is that useful advertising (or advertising so good people will embrace it as a service) can’t really ask for an immediate sale.  It has to serve the customer, create good will, help the customer figure something out or otherwise create this new notion of engagement through (most likely but not always) utility”

Bob Allen, past president of Modem says “AaaS can also be thought of as branded planning tools–living, breathing ads that allow people to interact with the brand, solve problems, etc” He suggests that the proliferation of apps today represents some of the best of Advertising as a Service, and for brands like Best Buy, this is certainly true. Unfortunately, many branded apps are lost in the hundreds of thousands of apps available.

Lots of brands of course figured it out years ago, but the idea that advertising could provide more than just message delivery is something that you still don’t see enough of. Instead what you see are more online interpretations of “above-the-line”, traditional advertising brought to life in online venues. What this results in are click through rates well below 1% and engagement rates with even rich media advertising that is only slightly higher.

So what does “advertising as a service” look like? The earliest memory of it that I have was work done by Modem Media in 1997 when it launched the first rich media banners for John Hancock insurance. It used HTML pull down menus to allow users to choose their income level and retirement year and the take them to a landing page which provided personalized recommendations and next steps. It was genius and got a 24% click through rate, unheard of today.

Ford does AaaSThe John Hancock example was right for 1997, as everyone who was online was looking for cool things to do online, and is an example of tactics common place today and no longer as engaging as it was then. However, when looking for examples of “Advertising as a Service” today, you typically have to look well beyond the banner to find it. For instance, I ran across this page on Mashable, pictured here, that they’ve created in partnership with Ford. It’s a predefined search index that helps build the idea of the Ford Explorer as a brand that can help you get places. The bet part is is that the banners that surround it are really service oriented, allowing you to ask questions and view videos of the product. The Mashable “explore” feature itself  is pure service, and the two together make a nice package of worthwhile engagement for the user.

Ford isn’t the only example, other brand who are excelling at this approach include technology companies, banks, car manufacturers, airlines, and even a few CPG companies who have put ecoupons right in their advertising banners. And beyond the banner, the best branded apps take Advertising as a Service to a whole new level. You just don’t see it as much as you should.

The question to ask is; why aren’t more brands putting forth “Advertising as a Service”? Do they not have anything interesting to engage users with? you’d think with Behavioral Targeting available today that you’d see nothing but advertising that speaks to the users needs directly.

Feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Creativity in the almost digital age

As this article from Mashable points out, there is a movement afoot demonstrating how brands and business can be built online, and this movement is stretching creativity to new limits and boundaries. This movement recognizes that in order to effectively market a product or service, you have GOT to go beyond the traditional, you’ve got to go beyond the :30 second TV spot and meet your audience (in this case, nostalgic gen-x moms as well as pre-teens) where they are and create experiences that create brand equity, product consideration, and ultimately, sales. The case study referenced is from Mattel, and involves the marketing of every favorite 8 year old girl, Ken and Barbie. Let me tell you, K&B know their digital marketing, and they put it to good use, with a multi-channel strategy that makes me say “wish i had done that!” (latest update to this story here.)

The New York Times, and their advertising column are, sadly, just now starting to realize this is not just a niche opportunity but a must have. This article from Stuart Elliot points out that Dr. Pepper isn’t content to just run TV spots touting it’s diet version’s unbelievable taste, it’s making sure that online experiences build on the story that’s told in the TV spots, creating a multi touch experience that completes the “message” trying to be delivered. The only surprising part is the surprise Mr. Elliot seems to express that this is actually working.

This isn’t new news, it’s old news, that online, it’s digitally enhanced experiences that build compelling creative, disruptive brand footprints. That more brands haven’t figured it out is a shame, but means that there will be work for traditional AND digital agencies for years to come just getting brands up to speed on how to move beyond the :30 second spot as a paradigm for marketing creativity.