Monthly Archives: March 2011
Google’s raison d’être is helping you find exactly what you need online, fast. Today they’ve launched a new weapon in their arsenal -- and like most online innovations these days, it’s social.
If you like a website, soon you’ll be able to hit “+1″ -- just as you Facebook Like, Twitter Favourite or hit the heart in Tumblr to like a post. The next time your friend is using Google to look for something similar, they’ll see your +1 on a search result as an endorsement.
The beauty of +1’s, says the Google Blog, is their relevance—you get the right recommendations (because they come from people who matter to you), at the right time (when you are actually looking for information about that topic) and in the right format (your search results).
So how do we know which +1’s to show you? Like social search, we use many signals to identify the most useful recommendations, including things like the people you are already connected to through Google (your chat buddies and contacts, for example). Soon we may also incorporate other signals, such as your connections on sites like Twitter, to ensure your recommendations are as relevant as possible.
It’s not live yet -- but if you can’t wait to play, go here to activate it early.
How will this impact what we do, and how people find out about our clients, products and campaigns? We’ll keep you posted.
As a postscript, a special shout out to an STW Group sage in Melbourne, DT Digital‘s Andy Taylor. He predicted on his blog that Google would be rolling out a feature precisely like this 10 days ago. Spooky!
Restaurant deals, skydiving, manicures, theatre tickets, products: Groupon is a website that lets you buy one thing per day -- that you may or may not want -- at a very reduced price.
If you sign on, you get a daily email with an offer. It’s relevant, because Groupon only offers you things in your city. It’s cheap, because participating companies do you a good deal. If enough people take Groupon up on the offer, the cheap price is locked in.
You pay up front and get a great deal. Groupon takes a whopping 40-50%. The company takes the rest, along with a massive boost in interest and hopefully some repeat customers.
Everybody’s happy. And Groupon’s very, very rich.
What’s its scale?
In just over two years since its launch, Groupon has built up a list of 70 million subscribers around the world. It was valued at $1.4 billion last April, sought funding at a $3 billion valuation in November and snubbed a $6 billion offer from Google two months after that. Projected to generate $3 -- $4 billion in revenue this year, up from $750 million in 2010, the company has been meeting with bankers to discuss a potential initial public offering that would value it at up to $25 billion, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. There are a lot of “billions” in that paragraph. Suffice to say, it’s big.
On March 16, it opened up a presence in China, in a joint venture with the country’s biggest internet company, Tencent.
Why is it successful?
In the first instance, you get things very cheaply. That has always been the lure of coupons.
But the fact that every deal has to meet a minimum interest threshold is what puts the “group” in Groupon. You are incentivised to share the deal with friends and family because if not enough people opt in, the offer expires.
There’s also a time limit. Deals are available often for just hours at a time. You can’t trawl through the archives for a discount on something you need -- instead you get the email and must make a split second decision. You snooze, you lose.
The daily frenzy has already spawned a new phrase, “Groupon anxiety”—“the preoccupation and feeling of anxiousness and not being able to sleep knowing that a new Groupon will be released after 1am”, according to Urban Dictionary.
The last key to their success is humans. They have a veritable army of salespeople, personally calling businesses to get them on board -- and huddled masses of copywriters, both in house and freelance. Writers of the daily emails are encouraged to ham it up. ”Today’s Groupon is perfect for people who love a good massage, but hate how, unlike pie, they can’t take any of it home with them,” is one example of the company voice. You can read more at their leaked (and now public) Groupon editorial manual.
Groupon founder Andrew Mason has something special in the pipeline. A smart phone app called Groupon Now that has just two buttons: “I’m hungry.” And “I’m bored.”
Add your postcode, and you get real time offers available around you, like your own budget-conscious concierge mixed with the Yellow Pages. It’s going to launch and transform lunchtimes in April.
It’s not all smooth sailing for Groupon. Anyone can build the technology, and anyone can get customers the deals so long as they have salespeople to get local businesses on board. And competitors are lining up to do so. The “daily deal” industry will grow to $3.93 billion in 2015 from $873 million last year, according to a projection from BIA/Kelsey, a Chantilly, Virginia-based consulting firm.
There are some high profile entrants to the space. Facebook is planning to get in on the action with a service called Facebook Deals that will let consumers buy discounted one-time offers as it looks for new ways to boost sales and attract local business customers. The service will let people share discounted offers with their friends. And location-based app Foursquare has partnered with American Express to let users get credit-card bonuses when they check in at a store and spend money.
Groupon’s rapid growth has lead to some dropped balls.
Their 30 second Superbowl commercial cost them $3 million dollars -- but making light of repression in Tibet was widely viewed as an insensitive mistake.
And there’s the merchant backlash. Utpal Dholakia of Rice University interviewed 150 businesses that had done Groupon promotions. One-third said they did not make any money from them, and 42% said that they would not do another daily deal. [Download Rice's study as a PDF.] They also wonder if the deals lead to repeat business, or degrade the value of their non-discounted products.
What can we learn from Groupon?
Well, agencies should keep half an eye on it in case one day we find ourselves having to sell our wares on it. Already the site’s being tested as a venue for B2B deals.
As for clients, the keys to success behind Groupon’s business model are applicable to every product or campaign: have you incentivised sharing, or at least built-in a reason to do so? And Groupon’s device of a ticking countdown is compelling. Have you established an urgency for people to take action?
The last word.
It’s only fair to give the last word on Groupon to its founder, 30 year old Andrew Mason, who invented the daily deals site as a side project to fund his idea for a non-profit.
When consumers are buying these half-off deals, they don’t realize it, but they’re playing their part in revitalizing their local economy and reversing the trend of people spending a larger amount of time in front of the computer screen and forgetting what it means to go out and experience life. People just think they’re getting a deal, but they’re getting so much more. At least, we rationalize it that way.
In Nextness Visual Diary, we highlight the top pieces of art, craft, video and design that grabbed us in the past seven days. This week’s visual diary is curated by Adam Morris, Digital Director at STW’s Cornwell. Follow Adam at @monsieurmorris.
There’s so much to love about this clip. And as absurd as it may seem, it could just be a sneak peek into how we might use intuitive, human gestures to manipulate every day objects.
Stunning images capturing the moment a TV is turned off. Via today and tomorrow.
Mad Men meets Gattaca in Ben Sandler’s ambiguous retro-futurism. Via Visual News.
A fake, but interesting nonetheless. Via Gothamist.
This is an interesting way to reward music fans with location-based content as a reward for physical presence. Via Mobile Behavior.
Fragments of time and space are captured by combining SLR camera and Xbox Kinect camera images. Via Creative Applications Network.
A quite bonkers instrument which is a “demonstration of a theoretical correspondence between sound frequency and colour light frequency”. It looks less earnest than that to me though. It looks kinda fun and easy to use. Via Neural.
Inspired by nature, Reuben Margolin creates amazing kinetic sculptures. Via Monibing.
10. From Over Here
Pole is a tangible interface. It allows several people to move wooden blocks to control elements in a digital projection.
A typewriter that types by itself. It’s a little bit eerie. It would be a nice way to receive text messages though, no? Via Up, not North.
An “autonomous spherical robot” that rolls around in the mud until it can’t move anymore, then sheds its husk. It seems to exude some kind of human characteristics. High art, apparently. Consider yourself kulchered. Via PSFK
14. Room Racers
More fun around the house! Build your own racecourse for projected cars with household items. Via Berg.
I have no idea why this is so great. It just is. Deal with it.
Big money and big brands mean that enormous Texan interactive, film and music festival SXSW has hit the big time – and so has digital. In his first taco-free days back at work following a whirlwind week in Austin, Ogilvy Creative Director Barrie Seppings filed this SXSW report.
“You sure you don’t want to take the Camaro for a quick spin?”
What kind of a question is that? Of course I want to take a Camaro for a quick spin. But I’ve got my heart set on the cherry red, open-top 6.2 litre Corvette that is parked, Le Mans-style, as if about to launch into the Austin morning traffic of its own volition. And I really should, in the name of research, also get behind the wheel of the new, all-electric Volt. The nice ladies from Chevrolet really don’t mind if I drive them all. In fact, I’m certain they are KPI’d on getting as many punters behind the wheel of as many Chevrolets as is technically possible in the two weeks it takes the SXSW festival to cycle through the interactive, film and music components of what was once a fringe event for alternative bands, independent film-makers and hard-core nerds.
Considering that, just a few short years ago, General Motors was seriously toying with the idea of liquidating the Chevrolet brand, the massive investment made by the marque in terms of sponsorship, exhibition space and activation is a clear indication of the rising fortunes of both Chevy and SXSW, and their trajectory as brands. In an evenly-matched exchange of ‘brand heat’, Chevy is bathing in the ‘bleeding edge’ kudos of the world’s largest gathering of people who make their living from the internet. SXSW, meanwhile is striding boldly towards the mainstream – the American Heartland, in Chevy-speak – and taking the bleeding edge of the interwebs along with it.
All that bold striding has obviously made ‘SouthBy’ thirsty, because it gave equal top billing to Pepsi, who played host to the masses all week long in a specially-constructed open-air arena opposite the Austin Convention Centre, and presented an invitation-only concert featuring Big Boi, who is apparently famous. They also made it pretty difficult to find a can of Coke.
Motor vehicles, soft drinks, consumer electronics, energy drinks, television channels, credit-ratings agencies. These were the companies that hitched their wagon to the SXSW brand as official major sponsors, with almost all of them redoubling their efforts in terms of advertising, promotions, events, activation and, quite simply, giving away pallet-loads of free stuff, all day long.
Free stuff, and free food in particular, was a popular tactic on the streets of Austin, with many start-ups simply renting a food truck, painting their logo all over it, picking a busy corner and setting up shop for the week. Except they were the kind of shops that didn’t want your money. They just wanted you to take some more of their heavily-branded free stuff and to remember their url.
And then there were the parties. Microsoft hosted an enormous barbeque for start-ups and VCs. They also rented out a huge auditorium and threw a lavish party to celebrate, of all things, a browser upgrade. On the same night.
Mashable took over a double-fronted, three story pub on the busiest street in what appears to be a pretty busy town, threw open the doors and bought everybody a drink or three, all night long. For two consecutive nights. They are, at heart, a blog, for crying out loud. But a blog with enough clout to convince Sony, Pepsi, a domain registrar and a photo-sharing service to each take out sponsorship packages within the self-proclaimed ‘Mashable House’, presumably underwriting the whole shebang.
Nikon and Vimeo (who decides on these partnerships, by the way?) joined forces, took over a disused power station and offered the masses thumping beats and enough booze to kill all your horses. A perfectly upstanding web-hosting company threw a fairly swanky burlesque party. The official closing party of the Interactive portion of SXSW was held at a 2,100 capacity outdoor venue and featured a secret performance by the Foo Fighters. Again, a hosting company were the, well, hosts.
CNN took over a sizeable local venue as their temporary broadcasting facility, re-branding it the CNN Grill and causing ongoing confusion among hungry punters. Conan O’Brien reportedly did a couple of shows from Austin. Ashton Kutcher was also repeatedly spotted in town, presumably so he could tweet amongst people who are really, really into Twitter.
The Guardian sent a team from their London HQ to co-habit with the supremely laid-back journalists of the Austin Chronicle and produce a semi-regular min-newspaper (yes, the kind made from putting ink on sheets of paper) dedicated to coverage of the event.
Apple created the perfect storm of consumer-tech nirvana by combining the words ‘pop-up store’, ‘SXSW’ and ‘iPad2’ in one frenzied sentence. The store, however, looked like it was moving in for good. And it was massive.
All of this big-money, mainstream-brand, traditional marketing activity sat over a constantly bubbling layer of events and stunts and parties and drive-bys and giveaways from what I had assumed would be the usual suspects: the start-ups, the web 2.0 stars, the comeback kids. They kept giving away the eats and the booze like they had nothing but VCs on speed dial. Which, for the next little while, they obviously do.
As one wag aptly put it (in the current parlance of the web): If you’re paying for your own food and drinks at SXSW, ur doin’ it wrong!
In a sure sign that SouthBy (and, by extension, all things digital media) is now primetime, it became quickly apparent that if you spent the night networking, you’d wind up holding a stack of business cards from people in advertising.
It’s clearly gone mainstream, but it hasn’t really gone global. There were lots of Australians, pods of Scandaweigans, quite a few Japanese and a smattering of Brazilians, but not many nationalities were there in sufficient numbers to be noticeable. Amongst the inevitable “It’s too big now” chatter were a few speculating that it might be time to franchise this sucker. Asia seemed a popular pick as the region most likely to get its own SouthBy – if not as an officially-licensed product, then at least a faithful reproduction.
Those of us in marketing-world and agency-land have grown tired of reading about how, now, everything is digital. However, I finally think it may actually be coming true – evidenced by the fact that, at one of the world’s largest festivals dedicated to the congealing edge of digital media and interactive technologies, everybody came to the party.
Their insight? The search for the perfect home can be a time intensive and often frustrating experience. A long term financial commitment, it’s not a decision that is taken lightly or made spontaneously. To make the search a little easier, the Commonwealth Bank identified an opportunity to provide home buyers with all the information they need to assist them when they are “out and about” in search for their new home. The result? 85,000+ app downloads in 10 weeks, more than 250,000 sessions, 500,000 property searches, and on average more than 70 calls per week to the CommBank home loans number.
Their insight? There’s no point simply telling an audience that a company is technologically innovative -- it is much more powerful for them to experience it for themselves. The idea was to create a ‘Dream Wall’ installation which would focus on clever thinking and joyful design through demonstrating the power of dreams. By combining cutting edge facial recognition and emotion tracking technology to power a series of animations, DT Digital and Boffswana developed a unique and intuitive experience. All visitors had to do was smile to enjoy it.
Companies used to massage products and campaigns until they were perfect before releasing them to the public – a large investment that, even when bolstered by research, could go badly awry. By the time you realise you’ve made a mistake, it’s too late to fix it.
Meanwhile, in the technology world, software developers used new rapid prototyping methodologies to great success, launching a product or feature when it was only 80% or even 50% finished – and quickly rolling out successive improvements based on user feedback and observations of the product’s performance in the field. The benefits of this “fail fast, fail cheap” approach are clear, and not just for software developers.
As Businessweek urged in 2007,
The only barrier to failing fast and failing cheap is your ego. You must be willing to fail, fail, and fail again if you are going to win in today’s competitive marketplace. Remember, even if you’re falling flat on your face, at least you’re still moving forward.
Now, far from being a source of shame, early and frequent failure has become the mark of a successful innovator – a badge of pride, with successful and admired champions like A.G. Lafley. He doubled sales, quadrupled profits, and increased Proctor and Gamble’s market value by more than $100 billion dollars during his time as chairman and CEO of the giant company. He said, on retiring:
I think I learned more from my failures than from my successes in all my years as a CEO. I think of my failures as a gift. Unless you view them that way, you won’t learn from failure, you won’t get better— and the company won’t get better.
But in recent times, the tide has started to turn against what is being seen as an overly-trendy focus on failure.
In the HBR blog last year, Scott Anthony wrote about three types of occasions when “failure is intolerable“:
- When someone knowingly does the wrong thing: like intentionally hiding negative market research data to get senior management approval for a pet project.
- When someone could have easily discovered that they were doing the wrong thing. The right phone call or the right research could have quickly highlighted a flaw in a plan.
- When someone spent a lot of time and money researching something that could only be learned experientially. Some things are just unknown and unknowable before the fact, Anthony Scott says. How would people use a service like eBay? With something truly out of the box you can only answer these questions through action.
While this loosening of attitudes toward failure is undoubtedly valuable, we want to be careful that we’re not focusing on the wrong thing. Failure is not our goal. We should not fetishize failure in and of itself. Failure is simply a common byproduct — it’s not the desired end-product.
Richardson cautions that firms should be sure to ask searching questions after every new idea is trialled, lest we “fail at failure”:
- What knowledge can we extract and feed forward into the next round of work?
- What can a specific failure teach us more generally (in other words, what are the principles we take away)?
- Is there an underlying idea that is still valuable even if this specific manifestation didn’t work out?
His advice? Keep failing, by all means. But don’t fetishise failure – focus on learning.