April 23, 2014

Tumblr's Timid Ad Play Now that they’ve drawn a crowd and sold themselves to Yahoo, Tumblr is trying to figure out how to make a buck. They’ve marshaled traffic, usage and psycho-demographic stats and are trying to simultaneously associate themselves with Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, to gain consideration and access to social ad budgets, while differentiating themselves from the competition to attract specific brands and buys. To do this, Tumblr raises a couple of new ideas about the use and value of social networks for brands. Play the Platform. Tumblr argues that they are a two-fer – an independent web platform featuring an easy to use CMS, which can fit seamlessly into a brands’ overall digital ecosystem, and a large and growing global social network. Creating a branded Tumblr, marketers can expand reach, add link juice and add to a robust content strategy by creating a digital brand asset. A blank canvas, a Tumblr blog can be anything, though the more successful ones are highly visual, featuring striking images, videos and gifs. There are no comment options, beyond reblogging, so sentiment tends to be more positive than on other social platforms. A branded Tumblr page is part of the Tumblr network and its emerging topical community subsets. This potentially yields some endorsement by association and the prospect of added viral distribution not to mention a future ad targeting option. Free Virility. In contrast to Facebook, who has choked off access to followers, Tumblr argues that reblogging is an engine of goodness for brands. Each individual blogger creates a Tumblr post, which is often curated and reblogged by others who reach large audiences where reblogging takes place again. They have created a waterfall chart to help marketers wrap their heads around this fundamental social media concept. The only missing part is hard data to prove it. One uniquely interesting aspect of Tumblr reblogging is a latency period. More than half of reblogs take place more than 15 days after an original post. This suggests either that usage is less frequent or intense or that users take their time and give more consideration to the memes they share. But in spite of these interesting sales pitches, buying Tumblr is a challenge. Blog content is highly visual and idiosyncratic. Users only see content from those they follow. To develop significant followings to get substantial reach and or frequency against desirable segments, brands will have to accumulate followers. Brands need to know why people use Tumblr and how either the people and their intentions, moods and behaviors differ from the other social networks. You can follow anyone without his or her blessing so the WOM value and personal endorsement aspect is likely to be weaker than on Facebook. Each user follows a different set of bloggers and nobody has crunched the numbers to determine what the patterns and affinities might be so aggregating audiences at scale is not really possible. Content categories aren’t marketing channels. So far, targeting options are limited to gender and geography; hardly sophisticated tools. For Tumblr attracts 12.8 million moms (referred to as Mumblrs) but there is no clear or easy path to reach them! Tumblr has a sizeable audience but they haven’t yet packaged it to sell to advertisers. Maybe this reflects tension between the original intention of founder David Carp and the aggressive plans of acquirer Marissa Mayer. But unless they get much more serious about slicing and dicing the audience and giving marketers a reason to buy, they will not be competitive.
Retailers Double Down on Mobile At this time of the year, retailers make technical and functionality investment decisions focused on Holiday 2014. The biggest issue is what to invest in mobile marketing. Fortunately retailers can rely on the 13th Annual Merchant Survey produced by my friend and colleague, Lauren Freedman at the e-tailing group, for insight and direction. Mobile users browse stores, open promotional emails, compare features, functions and prices, showroom, photograph goods and share products with friends. Mobile accounts for 20 percent of traffic for the majority of retailers surveyed. For one in five retailers, mobile traffic is 30 percent. (In contrast, the majority of responders peg social traffic at less than 2 percent.) According to the survey, 50% of those surveyed report that mobile consumers contribute at least 5 percent to their revenues and another 32 percent say mobile contributes at least 10 percent. Seventy-five percent of survey responders say mobile is “critical to the growth of our business.” But 39 percent admit “its hard to know where to invest relative to mobile initiatives.” And while its critical that retail sites need to render properly on smartphones and tablets, nobody really knows which added functionality would drive more profitable conversions and repeat purchases? Retail competition is fierce and conversion rates have remained stagnant at 2-3% over the last few years. Almost half of retailers are focused on improving their pages and brand experiences. Another third are amping up onsite merchandising, upgrading sites and instituting responsive design. One in three are spending more than $100,000 on mobile enhancements. My hunch is that the best investment is in messaging not necessarily functionality. For the foreseeable future mobile will primarily be a research tool not a buying mechanism. Most email is now read on mobile devices. Video is moving in the same direction. Mobile search is an increasingly important factor. This leads me to four new mobile retail messaging tactics. Frequency. Crafting a single impactful message and communicating it often yields greater awareness sooner. The same message, more times on more devices equals higher reach and more persuasion. Synchronize a persuasive offer and communicate it within a defined time window (think SuperBowl) to penetrate and persuade a target group faster than ever before. Sequencing. Parse a retail pitch. This applies the classic 1940s Burma Shave OOH approach to mobile. The additive value of sequential messages over a limited time period can hammer home a promotion or sale. Fractal Messaging. A variation on sequencing would be to acknowledge different facets of a brand’s appeal and expose different facets or offers at different times to different people using different devices. Product details and rich images go on tablets while sale pricing, sale dates and bonus offers go on smartphones, in SMS messages or are placed in online media, This assumes that consumer moods, mindsets and tasks are different by device. So while prospects may resent ads on their smartphone, they might be willing to watch pre-rolls or other video formats on a tablet or phablet. By understanding how consumers use devices both in terms of the mechanics (who, what and where) and their sensibilities (openness to being interrupted or interacted with) brands can optimize sales by aligning with consumers’ workflow and life style patterns. Orchestration. Assign specific marketing tasks to specific devices in the same way that Bach, Beethoven and Brahms assigned specific roles to specific instruments. One plays the base theme. Another adds the variations. TV, print or catalogs lay down the basic message, while tablet content amplifies or expands the message and smartphones become the channel for consumer reaction, interaction and response. mCommerce is still in its infancy. Beyond technical investments, it’s time to start creatively experimenting with mobile messaging.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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