Stop Whining about Facebook and Google Changes…Follow Their Lead Instead

Stop Whining about Facebook and Google Changes

Several weeks ago two internet superpowers – Facebook and Google – made changes to their user experience that made users happy and marketers cringe. The changes were indirectly directed at “marketing” tactics common to their services and part of both companies’ quest to bring more value to their users.

Marketers like myself wax poetic about delivering great products and customer experiences to build a strong brand. But heaven forbid Google or Facebook do the same thing and affect our marketing toolbox. It’s easy to get frustrated, but by taking a look at why these changes were made, we’ll understand and change-proof our marketing efforts. First let’s take a closer look at the changes.

Facebook’s Like-Gate

Facebook effectively killed the “Like-gate” – a practice where the brand forces a visitor to “Like” their brand page before they can access its content. It was a way to drive up Like numbers for a page and open up distribution for future content. From Facebook’s perspective (and mine after some thought), it created an unnecessary barrier for the Facebook user, negatively affecting their experience.

The reason marketers loved the like-gate is that those slightly cooked-up “like” numbers made it easy to look good on paper. Furthermore, often these like-gates were contests for prizes for liking the page, which begs the question, were the users “liking” the brand or the contest? Facebook wants a more honest approach from brands in order to deliver a more organic experience to its users.

Gmail Unsubscribe

Google stirred the pot by adding an “Unsubscribe” button to the top of emails in Gmail. Having an unsubscribe link in the email is a best practice and any good marketer has one in any promotional email, newsletters, etc. Those good marketers also bury those links in the fine print at the very bottom of the email. Gmail now moves that link right to the top.

While this change was met with seemingly less angst, the concern is obvious – subscriber numbers could go down. In realty though, if users click this unsubscribe button, they were already lost. Those emails were going unread and probably getting really annoying. Google just helped make that loss more official. While subscriber numbers may go down, open and click rate would theoretically increase with a more engaged list.

Watch and Learn

Google and Facebook are keeping marketers honest – honest in their numbers and interpretations of those numbers. Both companies want to deliver the best experience and content to their users. While these platforms will continue to evolve, that underlying principle will always be constant. By keeping that in mind, these and future changes can be counteracted and even rendered moot.

Google and Facebook are focused on making a product that users continually engage with. As technology changes, so do consumers’ needs and expectations. Staying on top of industry trends, addressing future needs and throwing in a little original innovation keeps users using the their platforms. That list applies to any product or service wanting to stay connected with their users, customers, fans, etc.

Google and Facebook are content delivery platforms designed to provide users with the best possible content. What is the best possible content? That depends on the audience, but it should be some combination of original, informative, entertaining and valuable. A consistent stream of quality content will drive anyone to click, like or subscribe more so than adding marketing-based walls and mildly questionable tactics.

In a convenient twist, all of these changes are made to boost Google’s and Facebook’s user and engagement numbers. They gather vast amounts of data that help them serve those marketers looking promote their brands. By gathering more honest data they are able to provide better value to marketers and watch the price of Google and Facebook stock go up.

The formula is simple. Focus on delivering an experience and content that users love and the number will go up. That is how you beat the change. Focus on what Google and Facebook are focusing on and the next time they make headlines for changes in their platforms, you won’t even blink.

 

photo credit: Jeremy Hiebert via flickr cc

Beyoncé’s New Album is the Culmination, not Death, of Marketing

Beyoncé's New Album is the Culmination, not Death, of MarketingThe internet was all a buzz with Beyoncé’s midnight surprise album release last week. In case you missed it, she dropped the album with no advance notice, single release, or any other buzz inducing activity and sold over 600,000 copies within the first couple of days. While fans were gasping and scrambling iTunes to download it, those in the business and marketing circles contemplated the non-promotion move.

Kevin Roberts, CEO of the global advertising agency Saachi & Saachi, commented in an interview with Bloomberg that “Marketing as we knew it was dead.” His claim is that brand awareness and demand generation are being replaced by movements created through intimacy and social connectivity.

However, his analysis ignores the work it takes to get a brand to the point where people feel compelled to join in those movements. People didn’t just all of the sudden like Beyoncé. She spent her entire life marketing herself into a world-wide mega brand. She gave fans an amazing brand experience at her shows. She continually honed her craft and delivered a product that connected with her fans and found new ones.

Roberts is half right in that people want more from brands, but without “old-school” brand awareness and demand generation, they won’t know what brand that they want more from. The Beyoncé of ten years ago would have had a hard time pulling this off (if you ignore the fact the iTunes didn’t exist 10 years ago, you see my point). Only mega-brand Beyoncé could pull this off and expected it to wildly succeed. That takes years of marketing and brand building and being really, really good at what you do.

Crazy College Football Uniforms Test Limits of Brand Consistency…for a Reason

Crazy College Football Uniforms for a Reason

The uniform is by far the most recognizable brand element of a football team at any level. The standard for football uniforms used to be a helmet, a home jersey, an away jersey and one or two sets of pants. In college football, that is no longer true.

Black-out uniforms, white-out uniforms and one-game only designs are testing the limits of recognition for college football brands with multiple helmets, jersey, pants and alternative colors for a team to choose from. Once sacred space that often represented tradition has now become a race for the most outlandish costume..err, uniform. Each week, college programs try to one-up each other, competing in fashion as well as football.

The University of Oregon is the poster child and originator of this movement. The Ducks haven’t worn the same uniform combination (helmet, jersey and pants) twice in the same season since 2004. They are able to achieve this by adding non-brand colors (their colors are green and yellow) like black, gray, neon green, and, most recently, pink.

Oregon Jerseys

A few of University of Oregon’s many uniform combinations.

Many of these uniforms are showing up in nationally televised games, rivalry games or bowl games – games that garner extra media and fan attention. Marketing logic would dictate that you would stick with your already recognizable uniform rather than sacrifice brand consistency for style. What business in their right mind would dilute their most visible and recognizable brand asset on such a big stage?

One that caters to today’s easily distracted and over stimulated generation of college-bound, teen-aged athletes. The football uniform has shifted from an established brand identity to a flashy recruiting and sales tool. Universities and athletic gear brands are using uniforms to market themselves to the next generation of blue chip student athletes.

While few recruits will cite uniforms as the reason for choosing a program, the strategy works at grabbing their attention. Oregon’s director of equipment operations acknowledges that the uniform carousel opened new doors for recruiting and led the program to becoming a regular contender for national titles. Other programs have taken notice and are following Oregon’s lead with a myriad of uniform options for any given game day.

Maryland Pride Uniforms

University of Maryland’s “Pride” costume…er, uniform.

It’s not just about the football programs. Uniform manufacturers are now leveraging these relationships more than ever to sell gear (cleats, gloves, apparel, etc.). With their exclusive contracts, these brands are now sharing the spotlight with their respective teams. These partnerships have added a stronger emphasis on uniform design by both parties, adding superficial drama to every game at the cost of consistency and tradition.

Case in point, for their game this year against rival Michigan (an Adidas school), Michigan State (a Nike school) introduced a new set of green pants to match their green jerseys and helmets. This was no coincidence as Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio went to Nike asking for the special look, stating “This is Nike versus Adidas. We need something different.

Consistency is important in building brands and visual identity plays an important role in developing that consistency. However, these college football programs (and their exclusive apparel providers) simply don’t have the time. Their target audience has a limited customer lifecycle and with the ever increasing stream information and noise, these short bursts of brand spectacle have become necessary.

So while this average Joe marketing person/passive college football fan thinks these strategic spectacles are bad branding, the teenagers looking to choose the next step in their athletic and academic career are digging it.

What other industries could pull off varying the visual identity of their core product at will?

P.S. For more information on the world of college football uniforms or uniforms in general, I recommend checking out Uni Watch. Each Sunday the blog features a recap of the previous Saturday’s college football uniform shenanigans.