The Future of Marketing is Virtual Currency

For many years now I have been a huge supporter of the movement away from cash, towards more convenient payment methods such as credit cards. Despite the fact that “plastic” payment methods have existed for many years, the industry and the world as a whole has taken a long time to accept to the notion of ditching dead trees with ink. Google Wallet has made huge strides to replace cash with convenience and the extended notion of virtual currency translates well into the world of marketing.

Traditionally marketers have tried to entice consumers to action with various discounts, coupons, giveaways and other means of promotion. Virtual currency may be one of the biggest soon-to-come revelations in the world of marketing. As consumers become increasingly comfortable with making purchases and dealing with money online, the opportunity for virtual currency promotion grows incredibly.

Virtual currency – differentiated from online payments – refers to a monetary equivalent of real-world currency that is used to purchase virtual goods online. The popularity of online payments has evolved hand-in-hand with the popularity of virtual currency as consumers become more comfortable purchasing goods (virtual and otherwise) online. Virtual currency is currently used predominantly in the gaming world to purchase upgrades or items but it has potential applications in many areas – especially marketing promotion.

Marketing promotions can be extremely costly, particularly when they involve deep discounts or cash payouts. Virtual currency may be the way of the future – allowing marketers the ability to incentivize activity such as watching a video advertisement or perform some other desired action in exchange for virtual currency. Depending on the platform, this currency may be of negligible cost. Of course, the benefits to the advertiser are huge; namely, the ability to motivate specific actions and measure this activity while maintaining a high ROI.

The world is already being dominated by gamification – the idea of motivating particular actions by making an activity seem like a game with some sort of reward system. Virtual currency is the perfect extension of gamification, allowing for relatively cheap, yet still motivating rewards. Users get roped-in to their favourite games and in order to unlock new levels, abilities or costumes, they can choose to engage with a brand to earn virtual currency to do with as they please.

This stuff works. I know because despite being very aware of the way marketing works, it still gets me. There is little avoiding it. It is not all bad, however, as both parties end up winning. Marketing and advertising has always been a way for consumers to receive free content. Now users have a choice: give your personal information to marketers in return for free stuff or perform desired actions. I discussed previously that online privacy is overrated, but those concerned about keeping their personal info confidential will gain a new avenue to free content.

Gamification and virtual currency, especially when combined, can be a powerful platform for marketers. It is a win-win situation (much like the exchange of personal information used to be before spam took over the world). Consumers get free virtual currency for their favourite online communities and advertisers receive levels of engagement they have not enjoyed since the internet rose to popularity. As a result it is only a matter of time before virtual currency marketing promotions become a common tactic. Forward-facing organizations that wish to remain at the front of the herd need to act quickly so as not to miss this opportunity.

Game on.

Inspiration from this post drawn from “Virtual Currency Is The Next Big Platform”.

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Online Privacy is Overrated

online-privacyIt seems like everyday a new article comes out decrying the lack of privacy online. On the surface, it seems like something to be truly concerned about. However, after a closer look you begin to realize that we have it pretty good. It’s time to be done with the hysteria.

Reality Check

Everyday we all enjoy free services at the extremely low cost of “some of our personal information”. Take Facebook for example. Facebook offers a number of services to us and asks nothing of direct monetary value in return. I, for one, use it to organize my photos, keep in touch with friends and organize events and the only thing I have ever had to “pay” in return was a couple strings of text indicating who I am. And yes, Facebook has access to my photos and status updates but it’s not as creepy as you think. Contrary to popular belief, Facebook does not give out your information to all of the rapists and murders in the world. It also doesn’t ask that you provide information such as your address, phone number or when your doors are left unlocked (you can post that info if you want but it is discretionary).

View the article that inspired this rant: Online Privacy is Overrated

The point is, we are all getting a great deal. How many of you would continue to use Facebook if it suddenly cost $59.99/month? Most people don’t think of it that way, but when presented with the alternative of paying cold hard cash, they are more than willing to divulge what their favourite TV show is. It’s absolutely painless to divulge this information with very few downsides. Some people consider targeted advertising a downside. I have no idea why. Another reality check: you will be subjected to advertising. It’s a fact. So why not see advertising that is applicable to you? It’s easy to ignore and hey, if you happen to be in the market for that particular product or service, it just saved you some research time. Not to mention ad personalization will save us guys from being subjected to tampon ads everywhere we go and women get to avoid those “meet sexy lolitas” ads. Win-win-win.

The other angle of hysteria perpetuated by the media is the idea of being watched or followed. The idea that with your personal information online everyone knows where you are always – good old fashioned conspiracy theories to boot. A brilliant piece of knowledge I obtained many years ago goes as follows:

No one cares about you as much as you think they do

It sounds super depressing but what it means is that you may think that everyone is always watching you, judging you and trying to get a piece of you, while in reality most of them really couldn’t care less. The government is not after you (and if they are then you are probably a criminal and deserve the attention) and neither is anyone else. No one is going to hack your account randomly to find your children’s photos, so they can somehow track down where they are. It’s preposterous. If your children are unsafe, it’s because the neighbour you thought was so nice turns out to be a creep. They’ll just walk across the lawn and say “hi” after school.

Your family and close friends may care about your personal details (and that’s not creepy), but no one else does. Everyone else is too busy worrying about themselves and their own family and friends.

So what are you hiding from? Keep your financial data close at hand and lend it out to only the most reputable of sites. Other than that, share and reap the rewards.

 

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Side note: even credit card information is relatively safe. In the event that your information is stolen, you are completely protected and the credit card company will reimburse you. Cash, on the other hand, is gone forever if lost or stolen.

Cineplex Timeplay: New and Improved

cineplex-timeplay-new-and-improvedIn a previous post, I wrote about how terrible the new Cineplex Timeplay experience was. I am writing about it again because they have dramatically improved the experience and it is now pretty awesome! Perhaps I was somewhat critical of the initial experience because it was the first attempt of its kind. Before we take a look at the improvements, however, a quick summary for the uninitiated:

Timeplay is an advertising experience comprised of smartphone apps that interact with “games” onscreen in the movie theatre. Users perform actions like flicking blobs onto the screen from their smartphone to reveal or create images in order to win prizes. It is a bit hard to explain, but the main idea is to get users to engage in advertisement-driven games to win prizes.

Click here to view a video overview of Timeplay

Better Rewards

The single biggest improvement has taken place in the reward received for participation. Previously, movie-goers were given prizes like “10% off a Canon Camera”. For advertisers, these rewards were great because they were directly applicable to their products, however, for users they were not very motivating. After all, everyday coupons and promotions typically match or top these discounts. The rewards also had no relation to the actual movie experience.

Thankfully, they have made some great changes to these rewards. Namely, scene points (reward points for free movies and concessions) are now given for certain Timeplay games. For frequent movie-goers this is a much more motivating reward. I collect these points religiously and get many free movies a year so I am now actively engaging with Timeplay where previously I had stopped caring. Hopefully they continue to tie-in movie specific rewards like these.

Better Games

Some of the games available for Timeplay are fun, while others are terribly mundane. Ford, for example, had a game that involved voting for what scene you wanted to see next in the commercial. Yes, it is just as boring as it sounds – you are simply voting on what part of a advertisement you want to see.

Timeplay now seems to be distancing themselves from these “games”, that really aren’t games at all. They seem to be focusing on games that involve throwing blobs from your smartphone onto the screen by flicking the screen. These games are actually surprisingly fun as you are awarded points individually.

Personalization

Somewhat annoyingly, Timeplay automatically assigns you a username that you cannot, at this point change. While this makes sense because many users may abuse customization by using inappropriate names, it is somewhat disappointing. What is neat, however, is that recent Timeplay ads have begun to incorporate these personal qualities into the games. For example, in a recent game I played, I was able to launch graffiti onto the screen and next to each piece of graffiti was my username. I was also awarded points individually that were used to rank players at the end of the game. Players were then rewarded with 100 scene points (1/10th of a free movie). Awesome!

Fewer Games (ads)

Timeplay had been added on top of all previous pre-movie advertisements. What that meant was that there was another 5 minutes or so of advertisements, extending the time before a movie (there are already too many pre-movie advertisements!).

A huge improvement has been reducing the number of Timeplay games (ads) to 1 before a movie. This is a much more reasonable intrusion – although I’m sure movie-goers that do not have smartphones are still probably angry at the extra advertising they cannot even participate in.

Overall, I like the idea of engaging advertisements as long as they meet the criteria I mentioned throughout this post: good rewards, fun games, and a reasonable amount of time/ads. Have you experienced Timeplay? Have you noticed any improvements?

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The New Google Look And Feel is Simple And Awesome

Google's new look and feel is simple and awesomeGoogle has made a number of fairly dramatic changes to the look and feel of some of its biggest products. Gmail, Google Analytics and even Google Search have seen major look-and-feel changes lately. Some people feel the new Google look feels wrong but I completely disagree.

Google has long been loved for its openness and its simplicity and while it has taken a couple steps back with openness lately they have moved forward with simplicity and integration across products. Although I do not use Google+ (and think it’s a redundant service given everyone already uses Facebook & Twitter), I do enjoy its interface. The Google+ look is clean and awesome and is finally being applied across Google products. The result is a unified UI across products that is easy to use and looks and feels like the modern web.

Google Search has remained particularly simple over the years with few changes to its design so some decent changes are long overdue. The integration of products along the top bar is one of the nicest additions (although not the most recent addition). Google is of course desperately pushing Google+, which I’m not overly pleased with but as long as everything else becomes more integrated as well, then all is well.

The new Google look and feel

It is very convenient that you can now log into Gmail (or your default Google product) and be automatically logged in throughout other products like Google+, Google Analytics etc.

Back to the design discussion – the Gmail redesign was met with a lot of push-back but I suspect that most people were responding as a knee-jerk reflex and hadn’t given themselves a chance to get used to it. Very similar to the complaining about Facebook changes that are quickly forgotten about. By now, I’m sure most people have become comfortable with the redesign.

All-in-all, I like the changes. Everything is still simple, clean, modern looking and visually appealing. The integration between products is getting better and the look-and-feel helps reduce the feeling of fragmentation. Keep it up Google!

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Cineplex Timeplay: Sneaky & Terrible Marketing/Advertising

advertising-marketing-timeplay-cineplexYou probably don’t go to the movies as often as I do. I make it out as much as 50 times a year – once a week. However, even if you don’t go often you have likely heard of Timeplay and perhaps you have already experienced it.

Timeplay, for the uninitiated, is a series of advertisements (not very cleverly) disguised as games that are played on smartphones before the movie starts. When I first heard about it I was very excited. The idea of playing an interactive game with other people in the theatre before a movie is a neat idea. Unfortunately, it turns out that the games are just advertisements with very little fun.

When Timeplay was originally announced Cineplex promised interactive quizzes, much like they already had as a pre-show, but with audience participation and with prizes. Unfortunately, those “prizes” turned out to be promotions from advertisements and the quizzes and other interesting concepts have yet to materialize.

The process to participate in Timeplay is also somewhat cumbersome. You have to first download an app (that is not available for iPhones at this time, pretty ridiculous, really) and then log into a special “Timeplay Wifi” connection in the theatre. You can then launch the app and choose the theatre that you are in to participate. You can then interact with the “games” on screen. One of the games is just a commercial for Ford in which you can influence the next scene in the ad. But the interactivity is severely limited. Instead of a neat “choose your own adventure”, you can simply decide to follow the “guy” or “girl” presented in the ad’s storyline. Nothing remarkable happens.

The other main ad/game is one in which you flick balls onto the screen from your phone to reveal a photo – an advertisement for a new Canon camera feature. Both games have limited interactivity and do little to remove the audience from the ad. The Ford ad has no prize associated with it, while the Canon game offers discounts depending on how the audience performs in the game.

Despite the lame “games” available now, the potential is there. The idea to earn prizes based on performance is great. After the Canon game, for example, you earn a prize – say 10% off – which you can then redeem later with a code that is kept within the app. With a game that is more fun and a smarter promotion, I could see a lot of use from these games.

Have you experienced Timeplay yet? What do you think of the concept/execution?

Update: Timeplay has improved dramatically and I now love it 🙂

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Google Hides Organic Search Keywords

In an extremely selfish and seemingly ridiculous move, Google has recently removed organic keyword tracking for users that are logged into Google services. All organic search keywords will simply be reported as “not provided” effective immediately. For those who are unaware, SEO Moz has a great article on the topic – Google Hides Search Referral Data.

Google estimates that, because the change will only apply to users logged into Google services, the number of affected searches will be less than 10%. Of course, to those who rely on the data, this is a significant proportion. Google claims the change has been made to protect user privacy but after scouring my Google account settings I have not found an option to turn it off. For Google, an organization that strives to be as open as possible, this is a bizarre and terrible move.

google-organic-search-not-provided

The situation is fairly serious for us internet marketers that rely on keyword tracking to make strategic marketing decisions. For now, the number of searches that it affects is relatively small but will almost certainly increase exponentially overtime, as more users sign up for Google services. Entire industries have been built on this data so it is very surprising that Google would make a significant change like this with no discussion or forewarning.

Theories have been thrown around about why Google removed their organic keyword tracking, but the predominant theory is that they have removed it to prevent competitive ad networks from gathering data from their systems. While this theory makes sense, it is extremely disappointing that they close up their system when they have prided themselves on being an open company.

Personally, I don’t see the harm in tracking keywords that users have typed in. What harm can come of someone knowing that you typed in “cheap socks” to find a particular site? Not to mention that Google will surely continue to collect this information for themselves – so it really isn’t fully private anyways.

Users have nothing to gain and marketers have much to lose. We can only hope that if we kick up enough of a fuss that they will realize that this is important to an entire industry and decide to stick to the principles that they have built their empire on.

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Is Sales Dead? Is Marketing the New Sales?

As a sales and marketing professional for an enterprise software company, I deal in the realm of both sales and marketing on a daily basis. Recently sales has come under tremendous pressure and is continuously being pushed further down the sales cycle. Let’s explore some of these dynamics.

In business-to-business operations, sales has always been dominant over marketing. While marketing was used for branding purposes and generating a buzz and some general interest, it was rarely likely to bring executives to the table. Salespeople, combined with some good old fashioned elbow-grease, were vital in schmoozing contacts  to close sales as well as actively seeking out new leads.

Fast forward to today and the opposite is true. No one likes to take cold calls anymore; executives have little patience for sales people and grow more sceptical of them everyday. Instead, inbound marketing is relied upon to bring buyers to sellers. Buyers feel at ease knowing that they are not being chased after – instead, they actively seek out the products they desire based on information they found online.

Although I do not have any stats readily available, the anecdotal evidence I have experienced as a B2B sales and marketing professional, is that sales are much easier to close when they have found you. The logic itself is simple, as people tend to prefer to be the hunter rather than the hunted. Your products and services are also likely to be a better fit if they have done their research and sought you out, rather than you trying to make them fit your mould.

sales-dead-inbound-marketingThe change has huge implications for both sales people and marketers. Marketing, but not necessarily advertising, has no where to go but up. Sales on the other hand may be a dying profession. It will always be needed to close-off a sale but salespeople will likely play a smaller role until later on in the sales cycle.

I will continue to sell with vigour, but will be spending the majority of my day trying to increase our visibility online so that leads can come to us.

A recent article in Canadian Business, Death of the Salesman, brings these points home.

Brand Shift: Achievers-Formerly I Love Rewards

Achievers, formerly I Love Rewards, a Canadian company based out of Toronto, has long since found a niche in the market, offering unique employee recognition and reward systems. Razor Suleman, Founder and CEO of Achievers, has earned numerous awards for the success of his business. They have found great success with the I Love Reward brand before becoming Achievers. I caught up with Rob Bianchin, Recognition & Engagement Professional, to find out why they went for the change.

What was the primary reason behind the name change?

We originally started as a rewards company and differentiated based on providing an extensive rewards catalog, online. But, when we asked customers what value we currently provided – it was software that helped increase engagement, change behavior, drive performance, and build a culture of recognition – not just rewards. Additionally, Achievers is aspirational – like us! It represents the values and philosophy that we use to help our customers every day to build great corporate cultures and Achievers.

Why was Achievers chosen? What message is it supposed to send?

Of all of the names that were brought to the table Achievers was selected as it provided a real representation of what our solutions focus on producing brand-shift-love-rewards-now-achieverstoday as well as in the future for the HR Marketplace. The common perception in the industry was that I Love Rewards was another “Rewards” company and that is the farthest things from where our focus is. Our mission is “to Change the Way the World Works” and being perceived as a rewards company would not help us achieve the necessary milestones to drive our business forward.

What is being done to ensure that reputation behind ILR is transferred to Achievers?

In terms of transferring the brand equity from I Love Rewards to Achievers there has been a detailed communication plan rolled out to inform our current clients, prospects and marketplace of the changes that were taking place. We communicated the change early to our customers at our Annual Customer Experience (ACE) conference, created email campaigns to notify our database and also engaged with a number of press outlets to get the word out into the industry. Moving forward, we will be heavily investing in marketing and events highlighting Achievers (formerly I Love Rewards) as represented in my signature below to strengthen the association until we are more established. Additionally, our plan is to expand in the United States, this was the perfect time to change our name because we do not have nearly the same brand recognition there that we have in Canada.

Achievers (formerly I Love Rewards) is passionate about employee rewards and Social Recognition. Their software helps engage employees and inspire performance globally.

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HootSuite is Bad for Facebook: Reduces Engagement :(

hootsuite-bad-facebookJust a little while ago I was writing about how HootSuite could organize your social media and I had nothing but praises for the app/website. Unfortunately, I may have to take it all back . . .

While HootSuite is a convenient way to automatically schedule and update multiple social networks simultaneously, it appears as if it also drastically reduces the visibility of those posts. Facebook (and possible Twitter) largely suppress updates generated by 3rd party sites. So those great articles you have been sharing may all have been for nought.

If that weren’t bad enough (and it is!), posts made through HootSuite lack some of the basic functionality of regular Facebook posts – namely, the ability to “share” it! So even if someone does see an article that you posted and they like it, it’s harder for them to share it.

I myself have noticed less engagement when I post through HootSuite. I simply pegged it as coincidence – perhaps some of the articles were uninteresting or were posted when few people saw them. I began to wonder when it was only my HootSuite posts that were lacking attention. Now I know the truth!

The verdict is out. I have already stopped using HootSuite and have reverted to posting individually on both Facebook and Twitter. It is a real shame considering how convenient it was. I suppose it was too good to be true as I’m sure these websites were taking away a lot of site traffic. Maybe Facebook will make right if we yell loud enough?

Marketing, Technology And Business Podcasts

marketing-technology-business-podcastFor a while now I have been doing the occasional podcast with a good friend of mine, Shum. This blog post will serve primarily as easy access to the variety of podcasts I have been a guest on.

If you are interested in marketing, technology or business, I highly recommend checking our Shum’s website and listen to a podcast or two. If you are like-minded, I am sure he would love to have you on his podcast and likewise, I am always looking for guest bloggers.

To give you more of a background on what you can expect some common themes that are discussed are: Google, Apple, changing technology, noteworthy IPOs and acquisitions, social media and social networks, marketing campaigns etc.

    1. “An Additional Network”
    2. “iRevolution”” (with Andrew Baskerville)
    3. “Transparency Rules”
    4. A Sunday Evening Trio
    5. Channel Surfing
    6. Plus One
    7. Fools in the Cloud
    8. Thoughts About Tablets
    9. UBB and the Shift of Power