Will Yahoo and Intel finally deliver on the promise of Internet-enabled TV in our Living Room?

December 29, 2008
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Yahoo's Widget Channel software for TVs shows a link to Yahoo's Flickr photo-sharing site, stock prices, and an advertisement. (Credit: Yahoo)

At CES 2009, Intel and Yahoo will reveal the latest in their Connected TV initiative, a program they hope will “mark the beginning of their Internet-fueled expansion to the world of TV.”  According to CNET, the companies have different goals with the Connected TV initiative.

For Yahoo, it’s establishment of the Widget Channel, a software foundation that can house programs for browsing photos, using the Internet’s abundant socially connected services, watching YouTube videos, or digging deeper into TV shows–and through which Yahoo will be able to show advertisements. For Intel, it’s a foothold in an industry whose microprocessors have typically been cheaper, less powerful, and less power-hungry.

Internet-enabled TV (also called IPTV) has been a buzzword for years now, but it has also been filled with lots of empty promises for consumers.  With that in mind, the Connected TV initiative has taken a consumer view, instead of a technology view, to figure out the future looks like.  Thanks to the help of several of Intel-employed anthropologists, they concluded that:

Unlike the PC, TVs are social. People watch it together, and what they watch turns into what they talk about. Another difference from PCs: it must be simple and reliable.  When bringing the Internet to the TV, You couldn’t just turn it into a PC.

Probing further, the anthropologists asked people what they thought the future of TV would look like.  CNET reports that the answers fit into several key buckets:

  • Something that would provide relevant information in real time, such as the weather right before heading to a sporting event.
  • Something that would connect them to other people they care about, a variation of social networking.
  • Something that would let them participate more with what they’re watching, for example by figuring out where a show’s cast members already had acted, or finding, rating, and sorting content.
  • Not a full-on Web browser, nor a keyboard to clutter up the room.

Additionally,when Connected TV initiative showed consumers initial concepts, they learned that:

  • People didn’t like the Widget Channel controls appearing on the left edge of the screen. Instead, people prefer the bottom, where they’re accustomed to seeing text already.
  • People expressed a powerful desire for a big button to make the software go away in one fell swoop–no menus or arrow keys or complication–so they could get back to watching TV when they wanted. That big button is also used to activate the Widget Channel.
  • Nobody wanted yet another remote control.

All of this research has led to the latest iteration of Internet-enabled TV that Yahoo and Intel will unveil at CES 2009.  While I may be an optimist, I really think they have potential of pulling this off and bringing the promise of IPTV to life.  Here’s why:

  1. An industry alliance can drive simplicity:  The struggle for IPTV has always been the number of players involved.  You need a solution that works for the TV manufacturers, cable companies, Internet media players, etc.  The Connected TV initiative shows promise because it brings together Yahoo, Intel and multiple TV manufacturers.  If IPTV is ever going to live up to the promise, it will take an alliance like this to pull off.
  2. Connected Consumers want information at their fingertips:  When I mentioned this article on Twitter, Jon Burg asked if web-enabled TV is something consumers will care about in 2009. I think they will but only if it is information they care about and want in real-time.  For instance, every Fall I sit with my laptop open on Sundays, tracking my Fantasy Football teams.  I’d much rather have that info streaming through widgets on the TV while I watch the games.  Same goes for customized CNN news feed or stock tracker running across the bottom of the screen.
  3. Advertisers want a replacement to interruption marketing:  Lots of people have been forecasting the death of TV advertising.  But let’s face it…that industry isn’t going away anytime soon as long as TV is central to people’s lives.  However, marketers do want a replacement to the ever-increasingly DVR skipped :30 second TV ad.  If marketers can join in the Connected TV initiative, they might just be able to help shape the future of TV advertising to one that is consumer-friendly…and dare I say, even beneficial to the consumer.

Whether or not the Connected TV initiative finally delivers on the high hopes of IPTV is anyone’s guess.  But I’m hopeful they pull it off and equally intrigued by the opportunities it will open up for Brand Managers and marketers worldwide.

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Mashable says brands don’t belong on Twitter

December 15, 2008

Mashable sparked an interesting debate on Friday when Dr Mark Drapeau made the bold statement that Twitter should ban brands from the site.  In the post “Do Brands Belong on Twitter”, Drapeau stated that:

Thinking about what might be best for people, in my opinion Twitter should not only not charge brands for membership, but also ban them altogether. Not unlike Facebook and other sites, every account would represent a person using a real name, location, and picture.

Drapeau explains his stance by arguing that a brand must have a person behind it:

Twitter is about people sharing information with other people. So how do one-dimensional organizational brands fit into this mix? When you really think about it, they don’t. As an analogy, when you call customer service, a human answers the phone (eventually) and tells you their name – and you’re not talking to “Sprint” or “Dell” but rather “Steve” or “Danny.”

Now while I completely disagree with that statement that Twitter should “ban brands altogether”, I do see the rationale that Twitter is about sharing information with other people.  I actually think the brands doing Social Media right are the ones that base their strategy off of this simple point.  If you just throw up your brand logo on Twitter (or any Social Media platform) and expect to have a conversation with consumers, you are doing it all wrong.  You are just trying to act the easy way out with one-way communication.

Brands belong in Social Media, but you need to humanize the brand

On the same day that Mashable said brands should be banned, the folks at iMedia highlighted “How to be a Twitter All-Star.”  Focused on brands like Flying Dog Brewery, Zappos and Southwest Airlines, the article proves the point that brands can enjoy great success on Twitter or any other Social Media platform.  But doing so requires them to humanize the brand by putting a person behind the logo.  And requires them to work with a different set of rules.

Christi Day, the Social Media face for Southwest Airlines, explained their approach as follows:

“Twitter empowers us to be authentic.  Getting real means being empowered, engaged and prepared. It is necessary to have the person in the Twitter role equipped to handle news management, customer communications, to be able to write compelling tweets and be willing to be engaged at all times.”

Let’s face it, this isn’t the type of marketing approach that most Brand Managers are use to.  But Twitter is just the latest technology to force us to think about change in our jobs.  If you haven’t sat down and thought about the impact of Social Media on your brand (and your career), maybe it is time you did.

NOTE:  Michael Brito from Intel joined in on the discussion with a great post on why brands do belong on Twitter.

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How should Brand Managers approach the Social Graphs of Facebook Connect and OpenID?

December 7, 2008

Over the past week, it would be hard not to notice the debate around social graphs and in particular, Facebook Connect versus OpenID.  The folks over at ReadWriteWeb summed it up best when they wrote:

This battle isn’t about “single sign-on” – it’s about the payload that comes with it (friend networks, personal data, maybe more), it’s about the developer communities, usability and ownership. It’s very important to the future of our user experience online and it’s a fascinating study in contrasts.

The importance was further embedded in my mind after I finished a stellar presentation from the folks at Razorfish where they envision the potential for social graphs for brands.  As they put it:

We believe that portable social graphs coming from Facebook, MySpace, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are going to transform how consumers interact with digital technology and each other. Marketers and web product managers must take notice today.

So what does this mean for Brand Managers?

In my eyes, Social Graphs have the potential to be one of the biggest influences on our Digital Strategies for years to come.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Consider what Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang outlined as key takeaways from the Razorfish presentation.

  • The social graph, when linked with traditional websites will radically change how we find, research, purchase, and support products.
  • Reviews, ratings, and critiques about products will become more relevant as you can start to get information from your own network.
  • Soon, social technologies will be pervasive and will impact every website –even if they choose not to participate
  • Brands, and their interactive marketing agencies, are starting to include social elements in all aspects of their marketing efforts.

Consider these opportunities for brands that Razorfish outlined:

  • Key influencer identification:  Brands make a lot of guesses today to determine influencers.  But imagine the potential if you could easily see the number of Twitter followers a person has, the number of Facebook groups they belong to and the number of posts they do on their blog.
  • Product suggestions through profile scraping:  Amazon gets a lot of praise for their product recommendations.  But consider how much more powerful these reco’s would be if they could also use all the information listed in your online profiles.
  • See reviews from people you know:  Pretty self explanatory.  I’d much rather see reviews from my circle of friends & co-workers than wade through hundreds of reviews from strangers.
  • Consult your friends at the point of purchase:  If your Social Graph is connected to an eCommerce engine, you could instantly ask your friends for advice on a purchase without leaving the buying process.

Obviously the potential of Social Graphs should not be debated.  Instead, the debate should be on which format offers the biggest opportunity for Brand Managers.  Should we side with one format?  Or should we offer consumers both sign-ins as part of our digital brand experiences?  Or should we sit on the sidelines and see what consumers decide?  Or should we use our influence as brands (and holders of marketing budgets) to force the companies to work together to create a common Social Graph for the entire web?

What do you think?

NOTE: For another interesting take on social graphs, you should read the thoughts of Louis Gray of Google Friend Connect.

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eMarketer: Facts and Numbers for Teens / Tweens

November 19, 2008

Over the weekend I had a chance to catch up on some of the recent eMarketer reports.  They have been releasing quite a bit around Teens / Tweens and technology.  In particular, their Kids & Teens Communication Revolutionaries provides some stellar information for any Brand Manager marketing to the youth market.  For instance, by 2012 US youth will be almost 1 out of 5 Internet users.

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Furthermore, this generation wants to communicate in different ways than older generations, with a much higher preference text messaging than e-mail.

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Congratulations Motrin. You just proved why every brand needs to understand Social Media

November 16, 2008

Are you still trying to convince your management why your brand should be monitoring Social Media?  Well if you are a Consumer Packaged Good brand (or any brand really), just look at what happened to Motrin over the past couple of days and the reaction of Motrin Moms.

A simple search on Twitter of #motrinmoms will show you that they pissed off a lot of people with their latest ad around “babywearing.”  Mommy Bloggers are not people you want to mess with and you sure better understand the sandbox you are playing in if you do them wrong.  For instance, just look at this Consumer Generated Media that has already popped up in response.  Not exactly brand content you want at the top of search results.

The Lesson for Brand Managers:

Motrin screwed up.  It happens.  But in today’s world of Social Media, the place they really screwed up was in not monitoring what people were saying about the brand.  This PR disaster is happening underneath their nose and no one on the brand is responding.  Not their advertising agency, not their Public Relations group and not the brand itself.   The unfortunate fact is that company’s haven’t trained Brand Managers to respond quickly to situations like this.  That needs to change….and it needs to change fast.

People are going to be talking about your brand, with or without the Brand Manager‘s permission.  This simple fact is reason enough that you should be monitoring the conversations around your brand.  Motrin is just the latest brand to learn this lesson the hard way.

UPDATE – Well it looks like Motrin is trying to respond.  If you commented on their website, it looks like their VP of Marketing has a response that is being sent out (Thanks to Amy Gates for the lead).  And the Motrin.com site has been taken down for now, but thanks to the power of YouTube, you can still see the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmykFKjNpdY (Thanks Bill Seaver)

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Why I’m Loving the new LinkedIn Applications

November 3, 2008

I have been a big fan of LinkedIn for a long time.  But its never been one of those social networking sites that I visit every day or spend much time on.  Instead, I would bounce onto the site when I needed to add a new business connection or update my profile.

But that might just change thanks to the new LinkedIn Applications that were launched last week.  While they only have a handful of applications right now, I am already finding them tremendously useful for tapping into information about my business network.  While they have similarities to what you might find on Facebook, the real difference is the type of network you are tapping into.  Each and every application on LinkedIn is extremely relevent to my business network.  Take for instance the following:

SlideShare: If you are regular reader of Hard Knox Life, you know I love presentations.  Now, thanks to the LinkedIn App, I can see when my network posts a new presentation.  Why is this so important?  Despite my heavy use of SlideShare, I don’t follow many people on the site, which means I miss new presentations from friends.  That’s all going to change now.

Reading List by Amazon: I’m a big reader and I’m always looking for recommendations from friends.  But I’ve found most of the recommendations happen face to face, which means I end up reading what every P&G’er is reading.  Now I can get the opinion of all my friends to see if that new Seth Godin book is worth the time.

My Travel by TripIt: I started using Upcoming a few months ago to track my business travel.  So I was a little disappointed to see TripIt as the travel app on LinkedIn.  But I still see a huge value of being able to see who else might be where I’m traveling, especially since the new job means my travel will be increasing quite a bit.  We’ll see if TripIt wins me over.

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Digital Hub Initiative brings a “non-conference” conference to Cincinnati

October 23, 2008

Last week, I came across an interesting effort from the AdClub Cincinnati called the Digital Hub Initiative.  The Digital Hub Initiative (DHI) is an independent organization whose goal is to promote Cincinnati’s digital community on all levels.  With my new role at P&G and my personal passion about the potential of Cincinnati, I was really excited to see this program.  Cincinnati played a tremendous role in advertising in the 20th Century and I think we can play that same role for Digital Marketing in the 21st Century.  Doing so will start with initiatives like DHI.

The Digital Hub Initiative is kicking off their work with a “Non-Conference” conference on November 14 – 15 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Cincinnati.  I think the idea is brilliant as they are aiming to combine top-notch speakers with a dose of real social networking (otherwise known as a Friday night bar crawl).  Speakers include Pete Blackshaw from Nielsen Online, Benjamin Palmer from Barbarian Group and Tim Schigel from Cincinnati based Share This.

I’m really pulling for the Digital Hub Initiative to build some momentum.  This conference should be a great start to establishing Cincinati as a digital hot spot for the future.

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