28.7.08

F(T) = B+P(1/10T+1/2T2)

This is, according to top PR agent Mark Borkowski, the formula to determine the decline in fame from its peak.

The formula applies to stars-as-brand. This conception has been impressed upon a generation of publicists by the American corporate PR firm, Rogers & Cowan.

Mark Borkowski's came up with his formula (which you can see a fuller explanation of
here) by studying famous people, somewhat famous people, and consumer brands like Red Bull, Stella, and Adidas. According to Borkowski, fame is not measured in 15 minutes, as Warhol suggested, but 15 months.

What does this mean for brands? If your brand rises in the public consciousness, you can expect it to stay there for 15 months. If you want to keep it there, you have to remember that people like stories. In a world of PR, these stories are told through events (think of Madonna's enduring fame and the various phases she has gone through).

Read the
article and see what you think.

16.7.08

Web 3.0 - The Human Web

Someone with even a limited knowledge of human social behaviour, could postulate that approximately 15 minutes after the term "Web 2.0" was coined, someone attempted to introduce "Web 3.0" into the common lexicon. Given that anticipation seems to be a central notion of Web 3.0, that person would have been right to do so.

Eric Schmidt of Google has claimed that Web 2.0 is a
marketing term. Many aspects of Web 2.0 were quickly turned toward direct or indirect business-with-customer applications. Think of the brilliant "Dove" campaign as the former; think of Facebook (because of its ability to focus advertising to the likes and dislikes of the member) as the latter. The possibilities continue to be almost limitless.

So is marketing ready for Web 3.0? Probably more than we realize. Does Web 3.0 exist? I would argue that there are features of it that exist, and that these features help us to anticipate what it will become.

Definitions of Web 3.0 vary greatly. Some of Web 3.0's core concepts pertain to the "semantic web", in which the semantics of various services and content on the web are defined to satisfy the needs of humans and machines to better use web content. A simple way of describing this is: we currently use the web as a vast store of knowledge. If I want to find out the Icelandic term for iceberg, I can do so quickly on the Internet. Adding a notion of semantics to the vast store of knowledge on the web would likely take away the need for me to perform this search. One can envision, for example, typing the term "the Icelandic word for cat" in Blogger, and the word would miraculously appear. (It is "kottur")

Tim Berners Lee describes his vision for the
semantic web this way:

I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.

In a sense, Wikipedia anticipates some elements of the semantic Web through the simple hypertexting that automatically occurs within an entry. One can get a basic definition of a concept through an article, one gets a fuller definition by following various hyperlinks, that exist contextually.

Other aspects of Web 3.0 include ubiquitous connectivity (a website can be browsed online, on a mobile device, etc.); distributed databases; and intelligent applications, or the ability of the Web to reason in an almost human fashion. Some people suggest that intelligent applications will emerge in a more organic fashion, such as the way that categorization of photos on Flickr are the result of collaborative filtering that extract meaning and order from the existing Web and how people interact with it.

In short, Web 3.0 is more human in its abilities, scope, responsiveness and modes of operation than the Web we are currently accustomed to. And given that marketing is an intensely human activity combining anticipation, communication and emotion, we have reason to hope that Web 3.0 will be ready for marketing too.

11.7.08

Green-Coloured Glasses: Vol 3

With so many brands trumpeting empty green promises, a collective consumer cynicism has developed to keep companies in check. Websites like www.greenwashindex.com host forums for users to rate various green-toting ads on their level of BS. This site is one of many available for consumers to engage in a dialogue about the latest offenders. Some activists have taken a facetious approach to identifying key players. A company called ‘Corpwatch’ whose mandate is to hold corporations accountable for their operations has created the Greenwashing Academy Awards. These acknowledgments are awarded bimonthly to corporations that put more money, time and energy into slick PR campaigns promoting their eco-friendly image, than they do to actually protecting the environment.

With consumers and environmentalists ready to pounce at the first sight of contradictory claims, many brands are becoming apprehensive to even utter the words ‘environmentally friendly’. And as an agency that prides itself on injecting brands with integrity and intelligence, we would never want to position a company in the line of fire. So how do we know if a client’s request for a green image will help or hinder? Perhaps the
6 Sins of Greenwashing checklist could shed some light on the validity of their claims:

1. What type of claim is being made? Is it specific or broad? Does the value of the single claim outweigh the other aspects of their operation?

2. Is a copy of the environmental standard or testing protocol available? If a manufacturer can’t provide the evidence of their claim, it could be a warning sign.

3. Was the testing protocol developed through a comprehensible, transparent process? If their story checks out, then testing should be able to live up to certain public standards without confusion.

4. Who developed the testing protocol? The most trusted standards are those developed in a consensus-based process by broad stakeholder groups.

5. What process is used to verify that the products meet the standard? There are various procedures to verify, including:

  • Self certification;

  • Self certification with random audits;

  • Independent third party verification;

  • Independent third party certification with on-site audits
Even if a company passes this checklist with flying colours, it can still run the risk of a negative perception from the public. Spending too many dollars on a green image ends up looking disingenuous, when the majority of the efforts should be put towards a more grassroots strategy, proving to consumers that environmental change is top priority.

Here are some more efforts worthy of a Greenwash Oscar:
PG&E - Let's Green This City
Walmart - Save and Live Green
BP - Environment and Society

10.7.08

Green-Coloured Glasses: Vol 2

It’s no secret that ‘green is the new black’ – which is a good thing. Our society is beginning to make strides in our purchasing behaviour, all for the sake of environmental preservation. The masses are slowly starting to recognize the value of something other than comfort and convenience. But unfortunately there is an abundance of brands looking to get a piece of the eco-pie for all the wrong reasons. Whether it’s to squeeze out an extra buck from na├»ve consumers, or to mask the nasty truth of their operation, some companies have gone to sordid lengths to appear green.

In July 2007, GM used its best-selling Chevrolet line to launch its multi-million dollar ‘Gas-Friendly to Gas-Free’ advertising campaign. The campaign boasts the steps they’ve taken to increase fuel efficiency; produce vehicles that can run on E85 ethanol; and develop hybrids and fuel cells. Since the launch,
Chevy’s website, commercials and print ads contain green-friendly images that suggest its’ support of the environment.



What is misleading about GM’s efforts is the extent to which the company is advertising its green technologies, while they’re still the leading producer in gas-guzzling vehicles. What is worse, the company claimed to be a fuel solutions leader, while working behind the scenes to derail attempts to increase fuel economy standards.

Another example of greenwashing comes from Fiji. This brand of bottled water has recently developed a website called
www.fijigreen.com, a slick-looking device positioning Fiji as an environmentally conscious brand that is taking action to become ‘carbon negative’. It’s clean design and hopeful copy outlines all the steps they’re taking to save the rainforests and reduce their carbon footprint.

In a seemingly transparent effort to involve themselves and consumers in the quest for sustainability, Fiji has invited outraged eco-activists to label the brand ‘the poster child for greenwashing’. This accusation was made because bottled water, by nature, is not an environmentally sustainable industry. Not only do the vast majority of North Americans throw water bottles in the garbage, but also every one of their bottles is shipped all the way from Fiji, making it difficult to see how they are helping reduce carbon emissions. However, with a big enough budget, Fiji has produced an alarmingly convincing website that is no doubt luring naive consumers as I write this.

The above examples were chosen for their obvious and audacious nature, but unfortunately there are thousands of companies that fall into the grey area of greenwashing. With so many different ways to be green, it’s almost impossible to claim you’re green for one effort without contradicting yourself in another. This creates a laundry list of brands that leave themselves vulnerable to the greenwash label, just by declaring themselves environmentally friendly. Check out the last installment that explores a new consumer crusade to catch brands green-handed.

8.7.08

Web Design Best Practices (part 5): Improving your site through iterations

More and more websites run on content management systems (CMS), enabling companies and organizations to update content and navigation internally, while they turn to their agencies to provide guidance and design for brand-sensitive or tech-heavy updates.

How can an organization best decide what content should be added, changed or removed? And how can an organization ensure that the changes they make are done with end users in mind so as not to fall in the trap of turning a website's content into org-speak? Learn from the big players like Dell, Ebay, and Amazon. They constantly make iterative changes to their sites to improve usability and to drive better returns.

Let's call the principle "change by iteration based on solid metrics". Combining small changes with measurable results can be a powerful tool to improve your website's performance and to help ensure that updates are done in the most user friendly manner possible.

To begin, your site should incorporate snippets of code to enable measurability using a tool such as Google Analytics. This will assist you in seeing what content, pages and text
work in your site.

Second, you should consider what constitutes success. For instance, you may hope that one half of all site visitors should go directly to your products section, and once there, they should spend at least two minutes reading and interacting with content.

Third, break down your goals into discrete elements: the pathway from the landing page to the products section is one element; the amout of time spent in the products section is another.

If you find that your visitation levels are falling short, look closely at the path users are following, and then look critically at content on their path. Then make changes by iteration. For instance, you might try changing the language on a call to action, and then seeing if your statistics improve. If so, good, if not, try including a compelling image or offer with your product call to action.

If you find users aren't spending enough time in your products section, put yourself in the shoes of an end user. We know that site visitors don't read much on the page, so you're unlikely to hook them with more text. What do you like to see when you're visiting another site? Do you spend time viewing videos? Do you like to interact with graphics? Are you interested in reading what other users think of the product? As a principle, it is safer to try iterations, that is, change one thing at a time. Add a video and check the stats. Present testimonials from customers, and test. Incorporate a call for end-user input into the product, and test. And so on.

You needn't stop at page level content. The principle of change by iteration can be applied more broadly than the examples I have shared so far. Main navigation items, the addition of micro-sites to delve deeply into certain site information, and the incorporation of widgets to increase the frequency of visits are some elements that bear iterations well.