The dark side of the groupon culture.

Ninja Cat is all four paws into deals and groupns, which seem to be all the rage recently, with busineses sprucing up and big money being pushed into promotion and acquisition.

The logic behind “deals” seems to be a very sound one – give the customer an opportunity to test out a service or product for a fraction of a price, and hopefully allow a business to turn that one-time offer, into a loyal customer. Or at least score extra earning on products/services that the customer will buy “by the way”.

Sounds sweet. But the fast growing groupon industry seems to not be able to see what they are forging – a culture of cheapness. When groupon was still all fresh and new, the idea really worked – the customer would get a voucher for a super cheap main course, but would buy drinks and deserts. But with the abundance of offers, the customer can buy super cheap vouchers for the main course, drinks and desserts. And simply hop from one venue to another.

Some businesses already reported losses on such deals – with groupon customers being extremely “cheap/free” orientated, bad tippers, and displaying an ill attitude. Giving out groupons also “cheapens” the perception of value – if a SPA treatment can drop from 1300 dollars to just 20, then what is it’s true value? Are those who didn’t get the cheap voucher actually being scammed?

The loyalty factor also suffers in the abundance of offers – be it dining, massages or other services – one can get a different offer for each day of the week. And to skip a deal, and go for full price service can appear unreasonable.

In the long-run Ninja Cat foresees businesses withdrawing from groupons and going back to the basics – services that focus on values and building relationships with customers. Groupons can still be a good vehicle for big brands, but small businesses can only get burned by them.

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Marketing, entertainment and social media

Marketing Ninja Cat loves marketing. Can you say the same about yourself? And if you do, what is it that you really love?

Being in the business we often just rush ahead, grab whatever works, and dump whatever doesn’t. But in the mad rush, it’s easy to forget the true purpose and nature of marketing.

So what is marketing? In the very core, marketing is an information modification and propelling tool. In the times long long ago, marketing essentially was used to convey a message about product existence. Then, when more products got introduced to the market, marketing would help people sort out the differences. Then, when even more information tried to reach the customers, marketing would channel those and target customers, that could potentially buy the product.

But what is marketing nowadays? The question might sound trivial, but it is worth asking, especially in the context of social media. What happened essentially, was people losing trust in marketing, advertising and everything else, that was supposed to help them achieve satisfaction from their buys. With traditional advertisers aggressively fighting for a share of the audience attention, what was left on the battlefield was numbness.

And that’s where social media and social consumerism came in – with recommendations coming from real people, the true nature of marketing got reviewed. Again, can it serve its initial purpose – to serve and sort information that lead to satisfying consumption. But, it’s a slippery ground, where brands often struggle to balance out their level of participation in the fragmentized dialogues.

But there is also another change, that marketers must deal with – the changing nature of the buying process itself. Buying has always been a thrill, and a deep part of our social and privet life. But with the abundance of media and communication channels, buying becomes the most common form of entertainment we serve ourselves. And we share the thrill with others, as well as leech the joy of the spending others share.

It is not conspicuous consumption – it’s a lifestyle thing. Purchasing new products is no different than watching a movie or going on  roller-coaster ride, the thrill is in its core the same. And just as we share photos from vacation and tales of our adventures, shopping and consumption becomes an inherent part of our life that we share in public.

Does the new media prompt it? Hell yeah. So what does this mean? My point is, that marketing nowadays goes though a deep transformation – it’s information filtering and targeting options are slowly moving toward social consumerism. At the same time, brand experience is becoming is becoming a form of entertainment. Marketers can no longer expect to hit people with their brand message, as the message will be filtered and formed on the base of consumer-experience. What the marketers can up play is the fun and entertainment factor, that can draw attention, and to some extent trade attention for entertainment.

Time matters in social media.

Ninja Cat joined Twitter in Feb 2009. Oh joyous days when most people could not even properly spell Tweeter, and having a Facebook Fan Page seemed like the most outrageous idea for businesses.

At that time Twitter crowds were mostly geeks and social media wannabes, and sharing links to interesting resources was the thing to do. Sharing how emo you feel today on Twitter? Not cool, go do that on Facebook.

But nowadays everything is switched up. Twitter is full of various rants and tidbits of personal information, while Facebook feeds swell with posts created by brand accounts. Whazzup?

What made the roles switch, and commercialize Facebook, while adding the emo spark to Twitter? Evolution that comes with time. Time is the single most important factor in social media, and at the same time, one that is most often overlooked, as marketers cling to their convictions or previous success, and just can’t move on.

The past year has been a rise of content aggregations – take Mashable for example. The smart blog that offered straight-to-the point brilliant articles evolved into a huge aggregate that basically vomits content, and builds a story around every little scrap of information hey can get. If you want to know what is the current social media buzz – you just go there. There is little more you can find by checking out links shared on Twitter – going to Mashable is far more time efficient.

Another trend that unfolded in the recent months is furthering commercialization of Facebook. No more do your friends share deep thoughts or observations on the cruelness of the world, no more do they update the feed with mundane info on what they are doing, eating or watching. Sharing links or viral videos is no more as intense as before, because brands correctly figured out, that they are not limited to sharing links just to their content, but can aim to become our virtual buddies, by sharing all things fun and interesting.

What is propelling further commercialization of Facebook is the obvious money that lays in marketing of businesses, and although Facebook tries to provide the users with best possible experience, they are also back-rubbing the MNC and eying what budget they can leech out of them.

So what is the moral of the story? Don’t hold to convictions. The Twitter and Facebook that you know today are nothing like just few months back. This is also a warning sign to businesses not to plan too far ahead – in social media marketing staying nimble is the best strategy.

Sneaky cheap ways small businesses can get their foot into social media

Ninja Cat will not even bother to talk about why, and how small businesses should go to social media. But Ninja Cat know, that reasons might be good, but the problem lays in resources.

Small businesses don’t have time, nor money. But in social media, it’s actually time that counts more – sometimes just doing things on social media, with no promotional activities, will still yield some results – but they will be spread very thin over time. So, one needs to spend a bit on speeding up the process.

Fan Pages

There is a myriad of reasons to have a fan page. One of them is that they can crawl around on their own – the recipe is quite simple: create a page with a sexy name, spam and beg your friends and family to “like it”, and if your business has some social media appeal, the page will gather likers over time, and maybe even get you a few new clients.

1 cent campaigns

If you live in the states, or Western Europe – you will have to fork out quite a bit of cash to buy Facebook advertisement campaigns. But if you target Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, or even Singapore – you can get away with bidding just 0.01 USD for a click. Although your advertisements will not show often, and there might be days when it will not make it to the advertising rooster at all, in the end you will get some clicks to your site/fan page for just 0.01 USD.

The Giveaways

Being a business you produce something or some sort of service – the actual cost of it are usually lower to you, if you don’t count the margin. So rather than buy advertisements or and iPad for a prize in a contest (must Ninja Cat say how much she loath the whole iPad as a contest prize idea?), tap into resources you already have. A good way to get potential clients to know about you and your product/service is to organize a giveaway. If you already have some social media presence, then just announce that you will give away this-and-that, and to participate, the giveaway participants need to spread the word – be it by writing a blog post, linking to your giveaway, tweeting about it, or updating their Facebook status and tagging you in it.

If your social media presence is low, look up a blogger that writes about something from your field, or is known for affinity to product/services from your field. Most bloggers will gladly accept sponsored give-away prizes (it’s best to pick someone who has already organized a few giveaways), and will help you gain better recognition of your business.

So how does a social media product life cycle look like?

Stage 1: no one gives a damn.

Stage 2: Early adapters, a.k.a. people who think novelty=improvement, will give it a try.

Stage 3: tech savvy people will give a try. Their friends think the tech savvy people are cool, and give a damn if the tech savvy people like the product.

Stage 4: the minions, followers and disciples of cool tech savvy people give a damn about the product, as much as the tech savvy people do.

Stage 5: Friends and families of minions, followers and disciples start using the product. Everyone is having a good time.

Stage 6: People who don’t give a damn also want to use the product, because they don’t want to seem like they are missing out. But in fact they still don’t give a damn.

Stage 7: Tech savvy people get bored with the product and dump it. Their minions do the same.

Stage 8: a handful of people who like the product remain, and a lot of people who don’t give a damn. Singapore agencies think that the product is finally popular and mature enough to engage it in promotional tactics.

Stage 9: Promotional tactics fail, because most people just don’t give a damn. Dreams get crushed and your pet unicorn dies.

The end.

Life-changing video for marketing cats.

This video made Ninja Cat think. Think long and hard.

You better see it too. It’s life changing for marketers and agency dwells.

http://player.vimeo.com/video/5515884

Paul Boag on “Get Clients to say ‘Yes!'” from Carsonified on Vimeo.

Let them speak.

„Word of Mouth” marketing seems to be a really nice idea. In theory. Marketers love to use this word, as shortcut for “let’s trick or manipulate people into reciting our press release”.

Let’s face it, most brands are not ready for W-o-MM, because it’s very likely that whoever is talking, will add something from themselves, and it might not always be the exact thing the company would like to hear. So in the end, it’s still the company who wants to do the talking.

But there are brands that are wildly successful with W-o-MM. Today I wanted to talk a bit about a brand that almost lives of WOMM, and yet, might be unknown to most marketing specialist due to its nature.

The brand I have in mind is a cosmetic brand called M.A.C. Truth is, most people have heard about it. How? The company does little advertising, does not conduct huge press campaigns, nor does it pay actors or musicians to be brand ambassadors. And yet, the products and releases are intensely discussed on blogs, forums and YouTube.

So how do they do it? I’ve been giving it a thought, and it seems that the success of the brand lays in minimizing the messaging. M.A.C. products are generally simple in packaging, the copywritng is basic and dry, and the company does not even provide a full spectrum presentation of the product, with promotional materials lacking photos of how the cosmetics behave when applied to skin.

And that’s where the gurus, influencers, and bloggers come in. They buy the product, describe it, provide photos of “swatches”, and detailed information on the product qualities. Basically, they are doing what a typical marketing department would do. Best of all, they do it for free, and while spending money on the products. At the same time, they do provide utility to their communities and readers, by creating additional informative and useful materials. The PR company of M.A.C. quickly got hold of this trend, and build connections with key influencers.

Summary: sometimes letting the influencers do the talking can do wonders. If the product is well designed at its core, and cohesive with the general brand image, there should be no need for the marketing department to crack their heads over how to convey the product message and value with fancy copywriting and tag-lines.

Giving influencers space to fill with their activity, allows them to provide something unique and valuable to their followers. And followers generally tend to trust the influencers, and so, the message becomes even more powerful.

There are a few brands out there, who have achieved success using this communication strategy. Let the example be even Apple, who does not have to provide it’s users with wordy explanations on product qualities and just let the brand lovers do the talking.