Friday, 31 July 2009


Just in case the search news of the week had passed you by, Microsoft and Yahoo! have announced a 10 year deal whereby Yahoo search will be powered by Bing and ad sales will be handled/ consolidated via Yahoo.

Consolidation in such a competitive market place, and one dominated by as powerful player as Google makes an awful lots of sense, albeit 10 years as a deal term is a very very long time in digital terms. Bing already have circa 15% of the search market, which is not to be sniffed at in ad revenue terms, and certainly means it is worth ensuring your site is optimised for Bing as well as Google at the very least.

Let the people create the content and let the brand reap the benefit

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of Spotify. I'm also a fan of many things Italian. So happiness is when I see the two put together in a way that brightens my day and in all probability will brighten many many days to come too.

Bravo Fiat! They're running a multi-media campaign for their Fiat 500C (c for cabriolet), which has ticked lots of boxes for me in the world of smart use of the digital space. Ok, the summer may not be living up to it's name, but we all like the idea of wind in our hair and soft top cars. Apparently the UK has the greatest penetration of cabriolet cars in Europe. Yet arguably one of the most variable climates.

So what have they done? Created a campaign that harnesses the power of music to make us feel good, with a platform that facilitates participation via the creation of playlists / songs on demand & then got the consumer involved in an easy-to-engage fashion to create content that the brand derives benefit from. Brilliant.

So far, in the 5 days the campaign has been running, 1926 tracks have been submitted, and there've been numerous people commenting via Twitter. The smart thing about this campaign is that not only do I get to feel involved because my track has been included in the playlist with minimal effort involved in contributing, (so I feel part of the 500c Spotify community), but because in a time pressured, information overloaded world I now have a ready made playlist to listen to full of tracks that make people smile. Better still is the fact that I now have an easy default option of something jolly to listen to when I can't be bothered to make an active decision. I regularly default back to playlists I've been sent as long ago as February when I first started using Spotify.

So for Fiat, they stand a pretty good chance of remaining on my radar for months to come, and bringing a smile to my face time after time. Good for them. And they didn't even have to create the content, just facilitate its creation, which for me is a good illustration of a brand that has understood the social media space. It's part of that letting go of control thing that brands are having a hard time grasping. You don't always have to be in control to reap the benefit.

So cheer up your Friday, listen to what the people say make them smile (You'll need to have downloaded the Spotify app first, then doublc click on link /500c playlist icon that appears on LHS of the Spotify window). It's eclectic but that's part of the fun. Open the sun roof this weekend, crank up the stereo, and pretend you are nipping around Rome in a soft top Fiat 500c. It doesn't take much imagination for that combination to conjure up a smile.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Making insurance interesting...

I've worked on insurance brands. It's hard work. Insurance is a really low-interest category - something we all need for one thing or another, begrudge paying through the nose for and hope we never need to use. It's a chore. Apathy rules because there's a bewildering jungle of policies and terms to choose from. Clicks count a lot in the insurance market which is increasingly dominated by online direct sales, and where price comparison sites fight for your patience filling in quote forms.

So full marks and rounds of applause to UK insurance comparison site Compare the Market who have done a brilliant job of creating personality for a brand in a dull sector, demonstrating joined up media thinking and understanding the power of social media. For anyone outside the UK, the gist is this: CTM created a puppet meerkat (pun on typo of market), who became their figurehead and alongside his sidekick Sergei, starred in their ads which ran across a range of media platforms including TV, radio, press and online.

Then they took it one step further by creating a Facebook profile for their meerkat character, whose name is Aleksandr Orlov. He currently has just over 500k fans. People who've CHOSEN to befriend an insurance company! That's engagement for you. CTM have done a great job of illustrating how you can use social networking platforms for brand advantage. If you spend some time understanding how people use it, you can then interact in a meaningful and relevant fashion.

Aleksandr behaves just like any of your other friends, regularly publishing status updates, that are short, amusing, regularly topical or just the type of random soundbites we all share daily. He posts photos, video content just as we all do and every action is shared with his many fans.

I am more than happy to be his friend just because his humourous in-character status updates make me smile, and that's worth a lot. Linking positive sentiment with your brand has to be one of the best ways to engender engagement and long term consideration and recall.

They've understood that they can use the power of all those fans to propogate their message and increase their reach in an influential manner as any of his fans interacting with him will have that interaction broadcast out to the rest of their friends. Smart. They've recognised t
he value of creating seemingly specific content for the platform - last week Aleksandr was talking about his forthcoming new video bloopers content following the release of a recent tv ad (also teased via his staus updates), creating anticipation and driving many views/comments when it was eventually published some days later. It's all good.

And if online success needed offline ratification to be taken seriously (it doesn't in my opinion), what more proof do you need than my friend Aleksandr securing a masthead position in the Metro (
free London morning paper), and most of page 3 to himself last week.

Be his friend. Even if you don't live in the UK or ever buy insurance. He'll make you smile and that counts for a lot in my book. This is one of the best examples I have come across of brands making social media work for them really well, without it feeling clumsy or contrived.

If it can be done for insurance, surely the field of opportunity is wide open?

Apps, apps everywhere

Last night one of the London free evening papers devoted almost a whole page to talking about mobile apps, profiling a few people who had developed successful iPhone apps.
With over 65k apps to choose from and over a billion downloads it's a buzzing business to be involved with.
Today, The Guardian published a really interesting article on mobile apps, now and looking forward, that I would recommend reading.

Yes, there are over 40m iPhones in the world (as at the end of April so with the iPhone 3GS release since then you can easily add a healthy amount more), but I think it's really important that we don't all get carried away by the iPhone. I don't dispute for a moment that they are great bits of kit, but let's not forget that the penetration of other devices that also support apps & have apps stores of their own (like the BlackBerry or the Nokia N series) is far far greater. If you are thinking of developing an app, work out which platforms you should not just could be developing it for.

You might get more buzz from developing an iPhone app (which may be no bad thing depending on your objectives) but you might get more consumer exposure and engagement from opting for one of the others. Or do both. Just remember that you can't control the timelines on Apple approving your app once you've submitted it so don't make it too time sensitive.

I really hope that iTunes approve the Spotify app. Yes it's a potential threat to paying for and downloading music but at the same time with estimated margins on paid-for apps at 30% they stand to make revenue from a different stream, which they can either take a part of or not, as undoubtedly there'll be some clever person out there that figures out a work-around.

Apps present exciting opportunities for those that have great ideas and understand that they have to deliver something valuable to the consumer to be really considered successful. I'd much rather create an app that perhaps fewer people downloaded but then used repeatedly or regularly than one that had enormous download figures for a week, was used once and then deleted for not delivering or being engaging.

My favourite app, which works on a wide range of regular (rather than just smart) phones too is the London Underground tubemap. A one off download for something I use time after time and is always on hand whereever I am going because my phone is never far away. Great.

I am still a little bemused by AudioBoo though, an iPhone app / site that enables you to capture and share sound clips, that seems to have been getting a growing groundswell of interest and following since it first popped up on my radar a few months ago.

Audioblogging apparently. Isn't that what pod-casts are for?? Maybe I am missing the point, in what seems to me to be a world increasingly turning to multi-media and visual based content. There'a a eclectic selection of sound clips varying from William Shatner on Sarah Palin's retirement from US politics yesterday, to the sounds of steam trains. All I can say is go and explore for yourself.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Cross platform content creation & delivery

Among the many things I have done in my career, working in TV & Film for a production company was one of the particularly interesting adventures. I left, 3 years ago, full of great stories of travel far and wide, but frustrated by many things, in particularly, by the lack of people in the industry that could grasp the potential of the web and the opportunities as well as the challenges it offered.

This cartoon that I tripped over recently on one of my favourite blogs, Gaping Void, summed it up for me. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.So it was nice to see that the BBC are working on an interesting cross-platform collaborative project to celebrate 20 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web. Even the project name "Digital revolution" is a beta title. Worth spending some time watching this video interviewing Sir Tim as part of the project kick off if you have 20 minutes one lunchtime. If you only have 10 minutes skip to halfway and watch the second half!

Embracing alternate & augmented reality

It's a brave new world out there. Some of us find it easier to make the mental leap from real to virtual than others.

I reckon the 6 year olds that are currently social networking / participating in the now Disney owned Club Penguin or the 10 years olds hanging out in Habbo Hotel are going to have no problems dealing with the virtual worlds of the future. Representing yourself as a penguin / avatar and meeting and interacting with other penguins/avatars is not freaky to them. Nor is managing and spending virtual currency. The question is where will they go from there as they grow older and their wants and needs change. I am suspecting it won't be Second Life, which in Gartner Hype Cycle terms is probably somewhere in the "trough of disillusionment".

But avatars can come in handy in other ways too. I recently read this interesting article from the New York Times, which talks about how Ford are embracing the advantages of the virtual world, and binning old-world concepts such as mood-boards, instead creating avatars of their target audience to help bring them to life in a more realistic, 360 fashion and using them to help with their product and comms development. Neat.

So following the thread of thought, link the virtual world of avatars and identity together with social networking and our ever increasing need to manage our professional and personal identities online and you get things like this view of augmented identity which might as yet be a relatively clumsy execution of how we will use apps and tools to display our virtual identity in different ways but are still interesting food for thought.

Using Twitter...

Twitter have realised that there's a lot of people and businesses out there that still haven't really grasped what they can do with it & so have published this handy guide to help.

I still love the fact that there are businesses everywhere using it in creative ways - can't remember where I got this from but I know it was taken somewhere in America. Tweet in your order for a quattro stagione pizza :-)

Just one of many examples out there, some that reach many people, some that reach just a few in a local area, but all valuable as we all increasingly use a broad range of tools to communicate. I also like Evan William's TED speech to help explain simply what Twitter is all about (or at least was in February 2009 when it was published, as it's evolving all the time).


If you are going to dive in and join the Twitterati though, I'd recommend that you download Tweetdeck or a similar app (there are many) to make using it more user friendly than tweeting / reading tweets via the website. I also discovered this potentially interesting tool for seeing who is following who in the inter-connected twittersphere.

Tweetfeel also does an interesting if less sophisticated mash-up of Twistori, to show you positive or negative sentiment tweets about your chosen brand or topic.

Brands need to learn to freewheel a little...

Brands have spent years and millions of $/£/€ carefully crafting their brand image. Brands help us make choices.Brands naturally form part of the fabric of the many conversations we all have everyday.

Brands have been loved, praised, reviled and denigrated at conversations around dinner tables, in the pub, in bars, on the telephone for years and years. But whilst the brand owners really knew these conversations were happening they couldn't really measure or tap into them. So a head in the sand approach was fine unless a particularly determined consumer was persistent enough to deal with horrible customer service freephone number queues and listening to 15 rounds of Vivaldi's spring allegro to really make their feelings known.

Then what has become known as Web 2.0 occured. Consumers suddenly got a voice (albeit generally a written one) via IM, email, blogs, Twitter, status feeds on Facebook, all manner of places where all of a sudden their voices could reach far further than just the people around the dinner table. Suddenly, the brands couldn't ignore the conversations anymore. Thoughts were being shared far and wide, right there in black and white or green or blue or pink. Yesterday 112k new blogs were created, the day before it was 123k. That's a lot of personal publishing platforms, whether they reach 14 ,44 ,400 or 40k people.

Brands are no longer controlling the conversation. Shock! Horror! I was sent a link to this presentation recently that illustrates the journey for many brand owners quite nicely.

It astounds me that so many brands who would never dream of giving up their old world daily "press clippings" service still haven't got around to implementing any serious form of buzz monitoring. Yet the word is on the web now not in newspapers in the same way that it was once upon a time. There arebuzz monitoring tools a plenty. Some you pay for, some are free, but these days there's no excuse for not listening even if it's only on an ad hoc dip basis.

I particularly like the "Big Buzz" feature of Ice Rocket for giving me a snapshot of what's happening in different spaces. Check it out.

Someone also shared with me yesterday this cool desktop social monitoring app called Social Seek. I've been playing with it this morning, having selected "Starbucks" and "London" as my keyword and location, and it's been burbling away happily all morning revealing all sorts of things...For me, these tools, provide great insight into how consumers reallly talk about brands, rather than the way brand managers think consumers talk about their brands. Armed with this understanding, we can then create content and experiences that are relevant to the consumer and help harness those conversations for brand advantage, using the influential connections between consumers to get our brand into places our ad $ just can't buy. Ignore at peril.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Interactive video fun

A while back YouTube started allowing you to tag videos with interactive links, and people have been playing with the many different ways you can link content together to create interesting multi-media web experiences. Kicking around for a while now has been the Boone Oakley agency "non-website" made entirely of connected videos hosted on YouTube, but I'm happy to plug them for pushing boundaries.

Remember those books you used to get as a kid where you could choose what happened next by deciding whether you wanted to jump to page 36 or page 64??

Well this morning I tripped over this YouTube interactive version and I'm sure it's the start of many more sophisticated stories told in the same way as people's preferences are increasingly for multi-media information consumption over text. Have a play..

Whilst I'm on the subject of YouTube, if you haven't already, check out YouTube XL - the rather AdobeAir inspired YouTube interface designed for those accessing YT on a big screen (e.g a TV) via a gaming platform or home media server or similar. I like it, it looks nice with it's dark surround, and the navigation is clear and simple.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Banging on about Bing...

I know, I know, I've talked about search and Bing a LOT recently but it's important. Competition in the market is healthy.

I have a Gmail account, I use the Google reader for RSS feeds, this blog is written on a Google owned platform, I upload to YouTube (owned by Google), and I am enormously excited about the scope and potential of the Google Wave (a new communication and collaboration platform/approach coming soon) so I'm far from entirely disloyal. But it's important to share my love too.

I am enjoying playing with Bing not just for the way it processes queries and displays results, but for the small moment of happiness I get from the stunning pictures they have on the homepage everyday. Yesterday it was Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the day before a stunning image of a turtle which made me think about a great holiday in the Whitsunday's last year. I engage with it. I play guessing games with myself as a result of the image I see. And clearly I am not alone and Bing have twigged that too as in the last week they've taken to adding clues under the image.

This morning I logged in and spent a few moments trying to work out where I recognised that skyline from. After a quick memory scan, and even before I looked at the clues, I realised it was the Yarra river and Melbourne, a city I love but haven't been back to for a few years now. But the fact that I go back to see the picture every day and I've been telling lots of my colleagues to do the same too, suggests they've got something right.

In an earlier post I talked about how smart it was for Bing to have launched a homepage photocontest via Facebook. I logged into Facebook this morning to find a status feed item reminding me that voting for the photocompetition closes on August 3rd, and encouraging me to go a vote (which I duly did). I'd encourage you to do the same. Why not? It's easy to do and easy on the eye. Well done, Bing, I think you are doing a good job. You are demonstrating that you are understanding your consumer and what is motivating (some) of them to use your decision making engine, and, how social media spaces can work hard for you: you don't have to drag people out of an environment that they are in anyway to make them consider and engage with your brand.
It will take a long time to shift people's behaviour from using Google as default, as there's many more of us using search than the was when the big shift from Yahoo search to Google happened in the late 1990's, but I feel compelled to encourage people to explore the search options available too us. There's more to search than the big G.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Time Savers...

I had an extraordinarily busy week last week with limited time to keep up with the new developments in the wired world (ironic really given that I was delivering an intensive 3 day course on digital marketing), but one thing I did trip over was:

BingTweets - an interesting mash-up of Bing (the search / decision-making engine) and Twitter. Run a search. Try it with something topical. Why a time saver and why do I like this? Because it gives me search results plus a notion of real time and what's being said about that topic right now, without me having to use multiple tools. As I said to a friend last week, it would be an interesting exercise to do live with clients to make them realise the real context in which people naturally talk about their brands, rather than the version they prefer to believe.

Not so new, but a service I love and find incredibly useful when I've been away from my inbox for a few days is an email "snooze" button provided by a site called Hit me later. Basically you can forward an email to a given email address and specify when you want it back (i.e 4 hours, 24 hours etc and it'll send it back to you at the designated time, meaning it appears at the top of the email pile, which I find incredibly handy as a means of prioritising / not forgetting important emails when you have a full inbox and lots of FYI's / junk to clear out before you can actually deal with the important stuff.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Online jukebox magic

I've been disconnected from the wired world for a few days. My 30 gig iPod has a ridiculous amount of tunes on to cater for most moods, and is brilliant for when I'm travelling. One of these days I might even get around to deleting the ones I don't like / have no idea how they got on there in the first place, but with oodles of capacity it's never got to the top of the "to do" list. Once upon a time I used to use it in the office too, BOSE noise cancelling headphones firmly on whilst I battled to concentrate in an open plan battery-chicken farm / office.

Then a few years ago I discovered music streaming online. Choice and control at my finger tips. Whether I owned the music or not. All in exchange for mentally screening out a few ads.

First I fell in love with US based Pandora, then they blocked UK IP addresses over rights and royalty issues. Fair enough. But I did love its' suggestions, random as sometimes they were, but the ability to create my own stations around whims and themes was great. The Charlie Brown Christmas Album always makes me smile and think of the friend in the US who introduced me to it, not that I am ever likely to buy it. But all of a sudden for a few weeks I could dip in and out.

From there I moved onto Last fm, which I also loved for "it's if you like that you might like this" feature. It worked well, but digitally curious as I am, I was lured by something newer and shinier:

Spotify. A desktop app that delivers pleasure everyday. And then better still I discovered that for a token £0.99 you could block out the ads (that don't bother me when I'm working) for 24 hours. So now I don't even have to pre-prep playlists for parties or when I have friends over, I can just go with the mood and the moment. Music truly at my fingertips. Playlists created with a few quick clicks. If you haven't tried it yet I recommend you do. I'm not even sure whether I'll replace my old iPod for a newer shinier one. With Android & iPhone apps that (do/will) allow you to cache a playlist to listen to offline, why would I need to?

I think it raises interesting questions. I grew up in a world where owning records /cassettes /cds and having "things" to show for your money was important. Album artwork was iconic. Pouring over lyrics inside album covers was de facto. For teenagers today who are used to streaming, downloading, and widespread connectivity, why would they need to own stuff they can readily access pretty much anytime anywhere? Are there similar implications for books with Kindle & other e-readers? Arnie is apparently banning school text book printing for cash strapped California in favour of digital versions.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

An end to mobile charger mayhem

I'm sure I am not the only one that's resisted changing my mobile at times because of the horror of having to upgrade car chargers, travel-weight chargers, over and above the one that comes in the box. Thank goodness something is finally being done about it the un-necessary chaos.

Life would be so much simpler if wherever you went you could charge your phone, rather than the cry of help that goes out around the office as someone faces battery death and severance from the 24/7 connectivity we've all come to rely on. Anyone got a Nokia charger? The little pin or the old bigger pin one? iPhone? Samsung? BlackBerry? Sony Ericsson? HTC? The list and the variables are seemingly endless. The un-necessary toll on the environment (and cupboard space) makes me wonder how it's taken so long for us to reach agreement that the situation is bonkers.

So hurrah for Apple,LG,Motorola, Nokia, Research In Motion (BlackBerry), Samsung, and Sony Ericsson amongst others who've signed up to working to a universal micro USB mobile charger format by 2010 (for Europe at least).

Could someone sort out laptops, digital cameras and iPod's next!? Surely a universal standard would make an enormous amount of sense environmentally, economically and certainly in terms of the plug spaghetti at home.

In eco-terms we should all be taking the solar charge option much more seriously! Even for those of us that live in less sunny climes there's more than enough light everyday to trickle charge many gadgets from your windowsill.

Creativity in search

It feels like I've written a lot about search recently. It's been a lively few weeks with new launches and approaches making the field more interesting. I've been advocating to all sorts of people the merits of having a play with Bing. I like it.

In particular I like the big images they use on the home page. I have started dropping by every day just to see what the image of the day is. They make me smile and give me a nanosecond of escapism. For image search I find it more user friendly than Google.

But getting the apathetic masses to change their habits and switch from Google is a BIG task. So applause all round for Bing who've been pretty smart in twigging that:
a) people like the dramatic imagery
b) the image search is being warmly received and
c) putting that together in a way that will involve, engage and encourage people to participate:
The solution: The Bing Summer Travel Photo Contest app on Facebook. Brilliant.

Facebook is already the biggest photohosting platform on the planet. We're all armed 24/7 with at the very least a cameraphone, that these days will take half reasonable photos. Most of us respond to flattery and recognition. How cool would it be to have a picture you've taken as the Bing home page for a day? Wouldn't the chance of that encourage you to visit Bing on a regular basis just to see what sort of thing they use? Smart.