Facebook app fuels “after hours” buzz around Coke energy drink

Innovative ways of communicating “brand” and an intensely personal approach are key pre-requisites for successful Web 2.0-based marketing, industry insiders say.

Brand is usually communicated through a well-crafted message that says: this is what we do, who we are and what we stand for, noted Marc Van Norden, senior manager of interactive development at Sapient Corp.

But, he said, getting that message across effectively through popular social networking sites – such as Facebook and MySpace – can sometimes be a daunting task.

That’s because such sites are interactive, while “brands are broadcasted” and aren’t typically communicated through back-and-forth engagement with a target group.

But such engagement is precisely what Sapient sought to foster through a Facebook application created for the Coca Cola “energy” soft drink Burn, when it launched in Europe.

The promise of Burn is it “extends your night,” allowing you to push back the dawn and party to your heart’s content. This theme was initially communicated mainly through point-of-sale or event-based promos: themed nights at select clubs, street teams, and a truck with a roof-mounted flame-thrower.

But Coke wanted a way to keep Burn in the minds of the target consumers even after the sun came up.

Given the target group (18 – 24-year olds), user engagement was also vital to the brand, and “infusing” this message into a Facebook application was a great way of ensuring such engagement.

So Sapient created Burn Alter Ego an app that focuses on the benefits of staying later at the club: meeting more people, and waking up with great stories the next day.

Burn Alter Ego allowed users to share those stories through blogs linked to customizable virtual avatars they created,. The next day, users could check their avatar’s blog to see what went on the night before, and view images that showed both avatars hanging out.

Burn Alter Ego – created in Flash – allows users to upload pictures of themselves and manipulate these on to their virtual avatars, Van Norden said.  “You can change your clothes, and mash your face on to the avatar; you can even select the environment in which this online persona lives, change the furniture, and do much more. Then you can connect with your other friends and go out with them at night.”

According to the Sapient executive, Burn Alter Ego exemplifies how “brand communication” and “user engagement” can be effectively combined. “This app was the basis of a viral campaign for Coke.”

If user engagement helps build brand, then a personalized approach is a fantastic way to get users engaged.

“The more people feel attached to something, the more they’ll want to tell their friends,” said Yaeer Katz, interactive producer at Giant Step
a Toronto-based interactive marketing and communications agency.

He said enabling users to spend to create something with a brand is a great idea, as they would want share what their creation with friends. “That’s their reward for spending investing all that time.”

That principle is at the heart of Story Maker – Giant Step’s soon-to-be-released Facebook application.

Scheduled to launch in the next couple months, the application will act as a white-label storytelling tool. Story Maker, says Katz, includes “a tools that let you personalize branded content in new and fun ways, and using tools that aren’t currently available anywhere online.

The hallmark of the tools, he said, is that they can be re-branded and customized.

Katz recommends that marketers to “go viral” before contacting key influencers”, and says his firm recommends such a strategy its own clients.

“If people find out about [about the brand] through other means, before we talk to them, then it’s much better.”

Giant Step recently launched a flash-based social networking portal dubbed Yoozur.

This customizable site provides a complementary experience, rather than a replacement for a Facebook app, Katz said.

Right now users can participate in a number of forums on the beta site, from a “Christmas appreciation group” to a “Nurse Your Spirit” group that includes fans of U.K. rock quartet “The Duke Spirit.”

Members can also post and tag videos, participate in debates, promote a cause or “brand” that they connect all their friends to.

The more personalized the brand the better, Katz says.

He suggests companies take advantage of existing content from offline materials. “If they already spent time and money doing something effective, growing that into online or social applications can be really useful…they can save time and money and get good results out of it, especially if they know it’s already been successful.”

Advice, insights, and case studies – such as those offered by Van Norden and Katz – seem to be the need of the hour.

Recent research suggest that many otherwise successful marketing professionals may be out of their depth when it comes to identifying strategies to  effectively promote brand and business via social networking sites.

A new survey from Epsilon Data Management LLC indicates that most chief marketing officers at leading U.S. consumer and B2B brands are either not very interested (22 per cent) or not interested at all (33 per cent) in using Facebook or MySpace for marketing purposes.

Epsilon is a marketing consulting firm based in Dallas, Texas. Only 10 per cent of survey respondents said they have incorporated social networking sites into their marketing strategies.

Other Web-based media scored higher than Facebook and MySpace among the same marketing executives, who said they are very interested or somewhat interested in using Internet forums (52 per cent), Webinars (52 per cent), Webcasts and podcasts (47 per cent), e-mail (47 per cent) and blogs (37 per cent).

Canadian marketers might have a slightly different perspective on the issue though – given the huge popularity of social networking sites here.

“It’s a little different, but it’s a matter of degree,” said Michael O’Connor Clark, vice-president at Thornley Fallis Communications. “Toronto is pretty much the Facebook capital of the world. There are more registered users of Facebook per capita in Toronto than any other city and more registered users per capita in Canada than any other country.”

Because Facebook adoption in Canada has been so “extraordinary”, Clark says, it can be of real interest to marketers here.

But he said chief marketing officers (CMOs) are probably right to be wary about using such sites for marketing campaigns, and the specific concerns expressed by Epsilon survey respondents around Facebook and MySpace “make absolute sense.”

For instance, he said, while Facebook and MySpace have been the hottest social networks for some time there’s evidence the growth has flattened and traffic has started to tail off.

“If you’re a marketing person and are presented with a survey question about your planned investment in the space, you’re going to be hesitant if you know those spaces are flattening out.”

But according to Epsilon chief marketing officer Steve Cone, CMOs are hesitant to use Facebook and MySpace precisely because they are social networking sites.

“They’re not supposed to be centres of excellence for advertising. But then people don’t want to be barraged by advertising.”

Instant messaging is another tool that doesn’t work with advertising, said Cone. “It’s about personal communication back and forth. It’s not about someone trying to inject an ad into the middle of a conversation. So I think clearly that’s what the survey points out.”

Challenges of social networking

Another barrier is lack of familiarity with unspoken protocols for these sites – what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

Social networking etiquette poses a challenge, according to Clark. “A number of marketers have got burned trying to do ‘clueless’ marketing within the walled garden ecosystems of this particular space.”

He said there’s a set of “very specific, widely understood, but completely unwritten expectations and etiquette” in the Facebook and MySpace worlds that longtime participants of those two social networks understand. So they “don’t take very kindly to marketers coming in and stomping all over the place.”

Another reason why these sites aren’t being widely adopted as marketing channels has to do with difficulties in measuring results.

People leave the sites and inquire about products or services from another point, said Cone. “You can’t tell whether they came from that site originally, so I think that’s part of the issue.”

Clark echoes this view and says CMOs often obsessed with quantitative data, rather qualitative data.

“They want to be able to know…that they can prove to their CEO and their board and any others that every dollar of marketing budget they have is appropriately spent and has a measurable return.”

He said showing measurable return in the social networking world can be a challenge for a couple of reasons.
First, he said, a marketer’s ability to connect directly with consumers within the Facebook and MySpace feature set is limited by the guidelines and terms of use governing the sites – the written and unwritten rules.

Second, you don’t own any of the data. “That’s probably the biggest single issue from a marketer’s perspective,” said Clark.

While a whole bunch of people may sign up on a Facebook fan page, “you can’t actually connect to any of those people because that’s a violation of Facebook terms and conditions.”

He said the great thing about Facebook is there are a lot of people in the community. “The not so great thing is it’s not your community. You have no real access or insight to their profile information, their demographic information.”

Why you should bother

Despite these challenges, 27 per cent of marketing executives polled in the Epsilon survey, identified social networking and word-of-mouth as channels they would most want to rely on to compensate for anticipated budget cuts.

But Clark cautions against the belief that social networking-based marketing is a free (or cheap) ride.

“While less expensive than other forms of advertising, it’s not inexpensive,” the Thornley Fallis executive noted. “One of the first misconceptions we try to dispel is that it’s cheap and cheerful. Done properly, it’s not all that cheap. It does require time.”

But the pay-off is well worth the expense and effort, he suggested.

Direct engagement with people who really care about you is the number one benefit, said Clark. “It’s in some ways the Holy Grail for marketers.There’s always been people out there in the world talking about your brand. The wonderful thing is that now you can hear what they’re saying and you can engage directly should you choose to.”

Google is another reason why you can’t afford to ignore social marketing, Clark said. Fresh and frequently content on things like blogs and social networking sites often tend to rank higher on Google than older, stale corporate content.

“There was an incredibly smart comment made by a guy by the name of Steve Ravel…who said that Google is becoming the new operating system for marketing. It sounds like an epigram, but within that is the secret of the real advantages of engaging in social media,” said Clark.

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