SnapTags vs. QR Codes the ideal 2D Experience

By now most of you have seen or interacted with QR codes in one form or another. Whether it was online, direct mail, etc… QR Codes are becoming a common tool in marketing toolkits.

qr_tattoo

While it is possible to leverage a small portion of a QR code to incorporate brand elements it is not the most aesthetically appealing execution for a brand. Also, QR codes currently require an application or software to read. While Near Field Communication or NFC is evolving it is still not widespread.

Red Urban QR Code

One additional issue is that QR codes are hardcoded upon generation. In order to manage the response destination changes would need to be made on the response side of the campaign such as changing content at the point of delivery or redirects to the desired response destination or use a premium QR management service.

QRCodePolo

As I look to execute campaigns that require enhancing product packaging, point of purchase, etc… I want a solution that is going to drive the maximum engagement potential with a low barrier of activation.

Initially I was an advocate of QR codes. I Provided POV’s on how to leverage the codes to drive engagement with mobile apps, sizzle videos, social destinations, etc…

Now I am looking to SnapTags more and more to drive that level of engagement for brands that I work with. A SnapTag is an aesthetically pleasing execution that provides multiple engagement options with the brand at the center of the experience.

inception

What I like about SnapTags is that the user has multiple options to activate and engage. They can simply text an image or e-mail an image of the SnapTag to drive the text or multimedia response.

inception-snaptag-640

The beauty of the SnapTag is that you are not locked into a single response destination. SnapTags support the ability to change the response as they are served via a database vs. hardcoded into the tag. This means that you can change the destination of the response without messy redirects off of the original response.

This is an ideal benefit if you want to drive different levels of engagement throughout the lifecycle of the tag.

Also, by driving activation via text or e-mail the SnapTag adds a CRM element to the campaign that can then drive a mobile opt-in vs. simply sending a user to a pre-determined location via a QR code.

branded-snaptags

From an analytics perspective instead of just simply tracking # of scans SnapTags offer media performance and consumer behavior tracking as an added benefit. Which is key when mapping back to the original brand objectives.

So when it comes to driving 2D digital activation I am leaning towards the SnapTag execution more and more as it provides a more robust model that is scalable with the campaign.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

BlackFin360

Influencer Identification, Brand Marketers & the Growing Divide

Advocacy, acceleration of content creation and generating buzz around products and services are always at the top of the list for most brand Go-To-Market strategies.

One consistent goal is to identify and engage key influencers in a specific brand category and work to activate them by peeking their interest into becoming a brand ambassador for your offering. Sounds easy enough right?

The problem is the divide between influencers and brands is very real and more fragmented than you may think. Obviously there are the A-list influencers in each category. Getting a single mention from Guy Kawasaki (@guykawasaki) or a featured article via a TechCrunch or Mashable author are worthy of praise.

guy

But how do you identify RELEVANT influencers? A large number of Influencers have moved past only residing in blogs and are leveraging other social channels. While blogs are still a key component of influencer outreach it is incredibly important to review an influencers comprehensive social footprint in comparison to your target consumer to ensure that you are maximizing your true social reach.

Many tools exist today to identify influencers across categories such as Technorati’s top 100 (Blogs) , Klout (Twitter), Radian6 (Multiple Channels) etc… but additional analysis needs to be conducted prior to executing your outreach program. Generating tool created influencer target lists is only half the battle.

Technorati

When I work with brands I use a combination of tools to craft the ideal influencer target list for my brand category. But before I proceed with any type of outreach there are 2 additional steps that need to be taken.

#1 – It is extremely important to take into consideration the target consumer segments and behavioral characteristics. This is critical as your influencers are only relevant to your consumer target if they are actually relevant to your consumer target!

Sample Personas2 crp

#2 – Not all influencers are created equally. Just because you have a list of 100 potential influencers to target it does not mean that you will get the most reach per channel.

When I review influencers for potential brand impact I take into consideration the following variables:

1 – Ensure my Consumer Segmentation is as detailed as possible including characteristics and perceived personas.

2 – Consolidate sets of traffic & engagement patterns via publicly available sources.

Scoble

2 – Map Target Demographics & Age indexing against my consumer segments
3 – Categorize and review social channel penetration and impact per channel as well as review how integrated their individual channels are.
4 – If available brand partner history

Once all data has been collected I score each set of variables based on a proprietary influencer index that I created. I will review as much data as possible around each influencer… Monthly uniques, demographic indexing tied to my consumer segments then I run numerous calculations on factors such as Dan Zarrella’s Retweetability Metric (# Tweets per day /# of RT’s per day)/Followers as well as analysis of Facebook reach, YouTube subscribers, video views and more.

dan-zarellas-retweetability-metric

Each data element receives a 1-3 weighted ranking based on Primary, Secondary & Ancillary influencer target status and all scores are then averaged to gauge an influencers potential brand impact rating.

What I find is that there are many tools that will get you 80% of the way there in terms of identifying relevant influencers. There are many tools that are channel specific and provide valuable data. In order to find the individuals that are truly relevant to your potential target audience it is important to venture that last 20% in order to truly maximize your program for success.

Regarding the outreach portion it is extremely important to be respectful in your approach. Take the time and show an interest in the topics they are passionate about and incent them in a way that will definitely encourage them to engage and be reciprocal in your praise. Facebook’s upcoming change that will allow brands to take more control of responding as a brand can further increase the bond between influencers and the brand. Aggregate relevant posts, provide links back and respond to their requests in a timely manner. Treat influencers as you would like to be treated and it will go a long way.

I have found these steps to be an extremely valuable framework to executing a successful influencer identification and outreach program.

 

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

BlackFin360

Augmented Reality a Reality for Brands

What do you think of when you hear the term Augmented Reality? Do you flash back to Tom Cruise in Minority Report? Or more recently Tony Stark in Iron Man 2 manipulating 3D objects? The prevailing thought until recently has been more style over substance. Some brand teams consider it is a nice gimmick to garner press but not a core element of an integrated strategy. But as you will see, A/R is becoming a key driver for brands that are looking to drive acquisition & engagement.

Minority Report

Iron Man 2

Augmented Reality can be a great addition to an integrated strategy as either an acquisition tool or engagement vehicle that enhances a consumers experience with the brand. With the rapid acceleration of smartphone capabilities the ability to provide relevance to a consumer and enhance their interaction with your brand across multiple channels is now reality. A/R will also be how we will interact digital information in the future.

Now the how…. Augmented Reality is simply when the real world is “augmented” by computer data.

A simple example happens on Sundays in the NFL. The Yellow line that we have now come to depend on when looking at yards to go for a first down is a great execution of AR. Simply applying a digital overaly with the real action.

Digital Line

What do I need? How and where does it work? Who is using it?

Depending on the type of execution there are a variety of ways to execute a program. The executions that most are familiar with were tied to A/R markers called glyphs.

marker

But A/R does not depend as much on the cryptic markers as it once did. The trend is moving towards markerless executions where everyday objects such as a dollar bill can initiate an immersive experience that further enhances a users experience with the brand.

AR BK

The other trend as I referenced above is tied to digital overlays that essentially enhance the environment around you. More and more executions are leveraging mobile devices as the viewer of digitized content.

Layar AR

There are multiple executions on the how. From mobile, online, point of purchase, print, TV and out of home.  Here are a few examples by medium.

Mobile: The biggest leap in recent years has been around mobile executions of A/R. With 50 million smart phone users in the US and the number quickly rising, the hardware can now support robust A/R executions. Your phone essentially becomes the lens by which you digitally enhance the world around you. With the recent executions by Yelp with Monocle & Wimbeltons use of Layar brands are looking to digitally tag the world around them and offer a new perspective on the world around them.

Yelp

Online: The initial executions were highly driven by markers. Now with markerless executions everyday objects such as a can of pringles can create a compelling reason to engage with a brand beyond the clutter.

A compelling acquisition execution was created by Pringles via an A/R advergame that was tied to the recent World Cup. Users used the Pringles can as a controller to interact with the game.

pringles

The next example by the United States Postal Service shows an execution that provides actual utility for users. The Virtual Box execution allows the USPS to create an engaging experience that provides value by digitally representing “will it fit?”

virtual-box-simulator-1

Olympus provides a great example of incorporating A/R via multiple channels that tie to an online experience. Markers in the shape of a new product were placed in targeted print locations. The user then had the option to get a virtual hands on tour of the new product. Again another example of an engaging experience that ties back to tangible value for the brand.

Olympus

Point of Purchase: One of the most innovative usages of A/R in store is the LEGO digital box. If you happen to live near a LEGO store you can use the kiosk to digitally see what your LEGO will look like when fully assembled. This is driven by markers on the package and combined with heavily branded kiosk to create a satisfying retail experience.

Lego

Television: XBOX – One example of A/R providing relevance in the home is with Microsofts upcoming release of the KINECT. The ability to interact directly with gestures to control digital data such as navigation, initiation of content as well as digitizing yourself will prove to be a gateway to mainstream application of digital interaction on a recurring basis.

Kinect

As we continue the trend of advancing hardware and further incorporating digital elements into our lives for everyday activities it will be interesting to see how campaigns are redefined to take advantage of the next great frontier in advertising.

Digital World

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

BlackFin360

OMMA & Social Networking

I recently attended the OMMA Global marketing conference in Hollywood, California. Some of the top talent from the marketing industry was there recently to discuss the current state of online marketing, media and advertising. The Event featured a number of session tracks that each followed a specific category (e.g. media, advertising, etc..) as well as an expo that featured a wide array of organizations from social networking providers to Perez Hilton.

The focus of this two day event was to discuss the latest trends and technology that can enable marketers to excel in the ever-changing media landscape. Hot topics were how to apply social networking solutions into campaigns as well as a strong emphasis on monetization of widgets.

Some very interesting data was shared during the sessions such as in 2008 the rate of consumer adoption of social networking to internet users has reached 43.5%. Meaning 43.5% of users are involved with some type of social network. The issue for marketers though is that only 5.7% of marketing spend is being applied to reach these consumers through their social networks. With consumer adoption continuing to rise it is only a matter of time before the marketing spend around social networking solutions will begin to close the gap.

The #1 reason for the difference in % is an inherent lack of standard metric consistency. The old guard of methodology based on CTR (Click-Through-Rate) is not working for defining value around Social solutions. Focus on Social Analytics means that a big step has been taken in providing consistency by focusing not on CTR but on the actual commuinty data by providing in-depth analysis of the latest trends that lead to successfully defining ROI on a given campaign initiative.

Another interesting topic that was discussed was that there is a lot of channel confusion. Meaning a number of marketers do not fully understand how to deploy social media solutions. There are a number of options. White label & SaaS Social Networking platforms, User generated content specific applications, etc… my recommendation is to find a solution that provides an integrated platform with a flexible UI that allows for flexibility to deploy the applications that are relevant for your clients needs but one that also has a strong reporting engine as consistent metrics are the key to defining a successful campaign. Also, depending on your client you may want to position a solution that scales to meet the potential demand.

Finally, one of the other hot topics of discussion around marketing and social networking was the concern around communication control. There is uncertainty about how to manage brand messages when deploying social media solutions. As Rob Howard has stated before, conversations matter. Your customers are going to talk about you whether you have a social networking presence or not. There are ways to control communication such as positioning moderated blogs instead of more collaborative applications where the organization is controlling more of the publishing and the user has less control over the brand. But ultimately we have found that transparency can be a very good thing for businesses as it can reveal a face to the brand that might otherwise miss the crucial connection with end users who are in even more control of the messages that they receive.

It appears that social networking applied to business is about to truly enter the mainstream in terms of marketing budget allocations as the consumers have spoken and shown that they are interested in this style of collaboration. The challenge for the marketers is to develop engaging campaigns that compliment the daily activities of users. One thing is for certain though it is going to be a fun ride!

Interview with Major Nelson

During GDC 2008 I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb of the Xbox Live team. Larry is the Director of Xbox Live Programming and is the author of one of the most popular gaming blogs on the web. Between posts, blogcasts and twitter Major keeps everyone up to date on the latest information on all things Xbox.

The focus of the interview was to get Larry’s thoughts on the keys to his success as well as his thoughts around social media and the future.

TheBlackFin: You have one of the highest trafficked blogs on the web today. What has been the key to your success?

Major Nelson: Since the beginning this has been about being a part of the conversation. With any blogging the ability to connect with the audience with relevant content is the key to success.

TheBlackFin: Describe some of the interesting trends that you have seen with your blog from the time you originally published it through today.

Major Nelson: The integration of the gamertag has been key since the beginning . The ability for gamers to publish their gamertag and tie in to the Xbox achievement system and publically display their gamerscore has been one of the most important elements to building community around Xbox gaming.

TheBlackFin: How do you think your blog has enhanced the Xbox Live brand?

Major Nelson: The blog has allowed us to have a conversation.  As one of the highest trafficked gaming blogs doing podcasts and blogging it has enabled real time communication. As you know this audience is rabid about information and they want to consume it in almost real time.

TheBlackFin: In your opinion… What impact has social networking and community in general had on the gaming industry?

Major Nelson: Social Networking has had a phenomenal impact on the industry. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Xbox Live is a premier social network. Everyday hundreds of thousands of users log on to play with their friends, compare gamer scores and connect with other gamers. With the integration between the consoles and Xbox.com it extends the experience beyond the console.  Also a lot of external applications are now picking up gaming data… you see different applications on MySpace and Facebook.

TheBlackFin: What publisher and game title has been successful in deploying a good social networking gaming experience?

Major Nelson: Without a doubt it would be Bungie and Halo. Online and offline what bungie has done to include the community has just been amazing.

TheBlackFin: What are your predictions around social networking trends and gaming in the next few years?

Major Nelson: I think we are going to see more of the game/web interaction like Bungie has done with Halo and Electronic Arts with Skate. Look at how they take in game data and spray it back to the web and allow users to collaborate with it. What Bungie has done is the tip of the iceberg. More and more publishers are recognizing the value of having a seamless experience between the game and the web.

Me with “the Major” @ GDC 2008
Tom Edwards with Major Nelson

Star Wars The Force Unleashed

StarWars - TFUThere are some great games on the horizon in 2008. There are two in particular that I am very interested in. The first being Electronic Arts Spore which will have it’s own post in the near future. It was recently announced that Spore will be released on September 7th.

The other title I am looking forward to playing in the summer of 2008 is the latest LucasArts title… Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Take a look at the trailer.

The story occurs between episodes III & IV and is being guided by George Lucas himself and will revolve around your Jedi being a “secret apprentice” to Darth Vader himself. Your mission is to hunt down Jedi that survived the initial purge.

Being an avid Star Wars fanboy I am very excited about what is possible on the 360 when it comes to putting your Jedi to the test. The game blends the Havoc Physics Engine With the Euphoria AI engine providing the basis for character/force interaction you can already get a feel from the trailer of what we can expect. Look at how the Storm Troopers flail about as they fly through the air and try to grab objects as well as how the environment can just crumble at the seams. Also, who doesn’t want to be able to bring down a TIE fighter with your Jedi powers. And was that a Rancor in the trailer??? It looked like you won’t need a giant door or bone this time around. If the gameplay is half as good as it appears in the trailer then this is a definite pickup.

From a marketing perspective this title is going to receive a very large marketing push including in true Lucas fashion a full line of toys as well as publishing by Dark Horse. So be expecting to see and hear a lot about this title in upcoming months.

GDC 2008

GDC2008I am in transit to San Francisco to attend the Game Developers Conference 2008.

I look forward to the numerous sessions and networking as well as all of the latest and greatest gaming demonstrations during the expo portion of the conference.

On Wednesday I will begin my blog coverage of GDC 2008 as that is when the Expo gets underway.

On deck is an interview with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb discussing his thoughts about the impact of Social Networking and gaming as well as insight into the keys to success of his blog.

Army Strong

One of the things that has truly shaped my life and served as a foundation for me to be a truly productive, successful adult was my time in the military. In the early 90’s I entered the US Army Reserve early entry program. I was a junior in High School and started preparations for training after I graduated.

My first taste of active duty was basic training at Fort Knox, KY and I learned what it would take to become a soldier. It was more than the physical… 90% of it was mental toughness and understanding how to play the game. Growing up in a military household allowed me to take to the rigid structure like a fish to water. I was a member of the 2nd platoon Ironmen and we were rough and tough and invincible (at least in our 17 year old minds). Those 8 weeks were physically and mentally demanding but I loved every minute of it.

Next in my career was AIT (Advanaced Individual Training). I had always had an interest in medicine so I leaned that direction when selecting my primary military discipline. I was a 91B which was a combat medic. I trained at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio TX and it was a complete 180 from the 8 weeks of training I had just experienced. The focus was more on the classroom as we learned how to work as a team and serve our fellow soldiers by putting their lives and needs ahead of our own. It is a great lesson in humility and empathy for your fellow soldiers.

As I progressed through my career a few moments stand out… winning the battalion soldier of the year in 1996. Receiving my sergeant stripes at the age of 20 and probably the thing I am the most proud of which are my jump wings.

I had a rare opportunity that is normally not available to a US Army Reserve soldier. As a member of the University of Oklahoma ROTC program as well as a member of the US Army Reserve I was able to secure a spot to attend jump school at Ft. Benning, GA. This was the toughest 3 weeks of training of my life. Upon arrival there were 300 members in our class. By the time we were finished only 125 soldiers completed the course.

From the hours of physical training in saw dust pits to the actual jump training on how to exit the aircraft, land and control your chute it was a physically grueling experience. Nothing compares to the few moments of calm after you exit the aircraft and clear the prop wash of the C-130 and your chute is fully deployed. There are a few seconds as you look out at the sun on the horizon that the world just seems to stand still… then reality or rather gravity comes into play and you land like a sack of potatoes.

I look back fondly on my military experiences. I made great friends and even more importantly I learned what it would take to be successful in all aspects of life.

A blast from the past… that is me in the red beret next to my best Army buddy Adam shortly after I finished Jump School.

Adam & Tom - Army - 700

Nike Super Bowl Event

Tonight was the Nike Super Bowl Event and it was the highlight of the trip thus far. A special thanks to BK for the invite and introduction to AD that made the trip for me. Basically any athlete that is associated with Nike Football or will be associated with Nike Football was at this particular event along with Nike corporate as well as a few of our friends from Microsoft.

The list was impressive: Adrian Peterson, Ben Roethlisberger, Jim Kelly, Warrick Dunn, Desmond Howard, and T.J. Houshmanzada to name a few. Others in attendance, Alice Cooper and Cowboy Troy.

When not focusing on business I spent time talking to Sooner Alumni and current Chicago Bear JD Runnels and current OU TE Joe John Finley and of course with Adrian Peterson. For those that don’t know me I bleed crimson and cream and the opportunity to meet one of the greatest Sooner running backs of all time was worth the trip.

Tom Edwards with Adrian Peterson - 640

Golf with The Gridiron Greats

Besides Madden Bowl XIV yesterday it was day two of assisting the Gridiron Greats cause. The morning brought a very moving press conference with 50 Gridiron Greats, 35 of which are Hall of Fame players. They gave moving testimony as Mike Ditka, Gale Sayers, Daryl “Moose” Johnston, and Michael Irvin all spoke about why this means so much to so many former players.

Later in the day brought the Gridiron Greats Golf event where the grand prize was a pair of Super Bowl XLII tickets. During the awards ceremony I had the priviledge to speak with Mike Ditka, Jim Marshall, and Jan Stenerud about their thoughts around the current situation facing those players left to fend for themselves.

This has been a great experience in that the passion that these men feel for this issue really comes through in their words. There are times when tears begin to gather and emotions start running high. These men, especially the older players paved the way and made the game what it is today. They gave their bodies and did not receive the generous salaries of today’s players. It is amazing how much this organization has accomplished in just one short year. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Mike Ditka
Ditka 2 - 640

Jan Stenerud
Jan Stenerud - 640

GDC 2008

GDC2008I confirmed today that I will be attending the 2008 Game Developer Conference February 18-22 in San Francisco.

I am very excited about attending as outside of the networking and expo portion the key areas that I am interested in are the business and management topics of “Make the Community Part of Halo” and advertising and games.

The “Make the Community Part of Halo” discussions are very key as it talks about the bungie.net experience and how they worked to make community an integral part of the game itself.

I have worked with Microsoft Game Studios, Ensemble Studios and of course Electronic Arts on the Skate and NFS ProStreet titles fall along the same lines. So if you are attending the event let me know and we will schedule some time to sync during the conference.

CES 2008 In Closing

It is great to be back in Dallas! CES 2008 was a great event. From the Bill Gates hilarious “last day video” to all of the robots, gadgets and celebrities. CES is a definite must attend event for any tech/gadget lover.

Being the avid gamer that I am I was disappointed that there was not a larger presence from the gaming industry on hand for the event. The show was dominated by Home and Audio products. There was a “gaming showcase” area but it was mainly filled with resellers and start-ups. There was not a lot to be seen. Granted CES occurs after E3 but it would have been nice to have more of a presence. The only major studio that I saw was Activision and they had a very small presence at the event.

One of the most impressive sites of the show was a “life size” version of the Autobot Bumblebee on the showroom floor. The level of detail and the scale of the piece definitely made you take notice.

Tom Edwards with Bumblebee

The only issue if you can call it one is that you definitely notice that there are 130,000 people in a confined space. There are times when you are pretty packed into a small space all vying for a glimpse of the latest and greatest but you have time to see all that you want to see.

Until Next year… Viva Las Vegas… Thank you… Thank you very much!!!

Tom Edwards with Elvis

CES Day 3

Coming to you live from Las Vegas at CES 2008. Today was another good day. After some early meetings with the Microsoft Vista team and the High Tech team it was on to the convention floor for additional networking.

There were 35 football fields worth of booths and exhibits. There was a very large focus on Audio and Home Theater with some of the best booth experiences coming from Panasonic, Samsung, LG and Sharp. Others went for sheer size…. Sony, Microsoft, Intel and HP all had significant space dedicated to them. There were some truly amazing products and innovations. LG had the thinnest flat screen television that I have ever seen and the war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD was being waged on the showroom floor. I will be posting a number of photos from the event in the photo gallery soon.

There was a lot to see as business was conducted on the show floor. I also had the opportunity to meet up with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb today as well as we discussed next steps regarding his blog. It is always great to talk to Larry. Be sure to check out his blog and podcast. He is the insider for all things Xbox.

Tomorrow will be my last day at the event and it will be the final push through the crowds of people and booths. It has been a great event so far and I look forward to talking to my targeted list of booths to close out the event.

Me with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb at CES 2008
Tom Edwards with MajorNelson

CES Day 2

Hello from Las Vegas. Today was another eventful day in Las Vegas. For most of the day I met again with the Microsoft High Tech Sales teams. Later in the day we did hit the expo floor here in the Venetian. The Panasonic “life wall” presentation was the most impressive of the day.

About 10% of the expo resides in the venetian but it was still as large of an expo as most standard conferences. There were all types of devices from Robots to data storage to replica Halo 3 plasma rifles. It was good to network and to see all of the great items. I have to say though there has been a serious lack of swag thus far. Of course with 130,000 attendees the goodies are few and far between.

Tomorrow we will hit the main expo hall. I will meet with Major Nelson as well as some other pre-arranged meetings. It should be a great day!!!

CES Day 1

Coming to you live from the Palazzo in Las Vegas… Day one is now in the books. Registration, networking and Rock Band were the orders of the day.

The focus of today was to meet with all of the Microsoft Sales reps that service the High Tech industry (~125 in attendance). After watching Bill Gates final keynote speech it was on to the Rock Band rock off. For those of you that don’t know Rock Band think Guitar Hero with drums and karaoke. We were to recruit members from the Microsoft to join our band and me and 3 Microsoftees made it to the finals. We put up the highest score of the night in the final during our set but ultimately lost the title (and the custom Zune prizes) to a team of seasoned Rock Band veterans. It was still a lot of fun though!

Tomorrow will be more networking with the Microsoft teams and then on to the CES expo hall as well as a meeting with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb of the Xbox team.

So far the conference has gotten off to a good start. Below is a pic of our “band” that’s me with the glasses on lead guitar :P.

Tom Edwards - CES 2008 Rock Band Battle - 1

How Much??? Really?!?

How much do we spend in the US on advertising? Well in 2007 we spent 283 billion dollars. Yes 283 billion. 

That may sound like a lot but this level of growth 0.7% versus 2006 puts advertising’s share of the 2007 GDP (2%) at it’s lowest level since the recession year of 1982. 

Even with an uncertain market advertising spend is projecting a 3% growth in 2008 fueled by the Summer Olympics and the Presidential Elections. Being interested in online spending I am very interested in the 2008 projections.

Below is breakdown of the 2008 projections. The data was based on a December 2007 report from Universal McCann’s Robert J. Coen as presented in the December 31st issue of Advertising Age.

  1. Direct Mail – $63B
  2. Broadcast TV – $48B
  3. Newspaper – $42B
  4. Cable TV Networks – $21B
  5. Radio – $18B
  6. Yellow Pages – $14B
  7. Consumer Magazine – $14B
  8. Internet – $12B
  9. All Other – $58B 

What may be surprising is the fact that online spending ranks 8th. Being in the industry our natural assumption is that online spending is in the top 3. With that said though this segment over the past few years has had double digit growth and is projected at a 16.5% increase from 2007. The next closest in terms of growth will be spend on Cable TV at a 6% increase.

The flip side is the reduction in spend on traditional mediums such as newspaper which is actually seeing a decrease of -1.8% of spend as compared to 2007 and Radio which is only seeing a 0.2% increase.

With the recent trends in online spending continuing to increase. The success of Google’s AdWords system and now with Microsoft commiting to a marketing focus now is the time to focus attention on the medium. 

This translates to very good news for online solutions and providers as well. Especially around social media based solutions. The need for social interaction with customers and users has now fully proliferated traditional business and the marketing dollars are now being fully allocated to deploying collaborative solutions as part of their integrated marketing strategy. I see this trend continuing into the near future.

30,000 and the Future

aunlockedOne of the best features that the Xbox team introduced was tying in-game achievements to a publically viewable profile. What this allowed was for you as a gamer to start building gaming “equity” over time that could then be shared and compared with your friends and others in the gaming community. This small detail has caused me to forgo the PS3 and only play the Wii with my son as I have been focused on increasing my gamerscore and pushing myself as a game enthusiast.

With that said, yesterday marked the passing of the 30,0000 gamerscore plateau. It took 135 days to go from 20,000K to 30,000K with an average gain of 74 points per day. So I thought I would take a moment and archive some fun facts since I started gaming on the 360 oh so many moons ago.

1) Consecutive Days Played Streak – 72
2) Retail Titles Completed – 11
3) World Gamerscore Ranking – 3734
4) World Achievement Ranking – 3398
5) Largest single day achievement gain – 39
6) Most points in a day – 1200
7) Completion Percentage (0 score games removed) – 53%
8) Total Games Retail(61)/Arcade (27) Owned – 88

Here is a breakdown of the top five games played by days played:

1) NHL2k7 – 55
2) DW Gundam – 53
3) Halo3 – 48
4) Lego Star Wars II – 45
5) Gears of War – 22

Moving forward I am going to put an end to my gamerscore addiction and start playing the titles that I enjoy as I have a stack of games that are waiting to be played and enjoyed. Mass Effect, The Orange Box, Rainbow 6 Vegas, FEAR, and COD4 Multiplayer.

I have and will always be a gamer to some degree. My focus is just shifting a bit :)

Game Review – Lego Star Wars TCS

starwarscompleteMy 5 year old son and I have enjoyed the Lego Star Wars series. It started with Lego Stars I on the PS2 then on to Lego Star Wars II on both the PS2 and Xbox 360 (100% complete). I even chose a Lego II achievement as the basis for the Official Xbox Magazine call out a few months ago.

So it should come as no surprise that I bought into the marketing hype and picked up Lego Star Wars The Complete Saga on 360. There are a few new levels, 10 more bounty hunter missions, arcade mode, new Lego city, power-ups, and challenge stages not to mention that all 6 story arcs are now nicely packaged in one CD with Xbox Live support this time around.

If you have small children and grew up liking Star Wars and Lego’s then this is a lot of fun. The “drop out” feature makes it very easy to assist first time gamers through tough spots as they make their way around this brick based world. The cut scenes are comical and keep the story moving along and the ability to play a level in about 20 minutes makes it appealing as there is a definitive end to the gaming session.

My favorite feature in this edition has to be the save and exit feature from the pause menu. Now regardless of how far you have progressed in the level, or if you are searching for that last hidden item you can easily just save and exit and all of the money and any special items (mini kits, red power bricks, etc…) are now saved. Before you would have to play the entire level through to the end to get credit.

From an achievement stand point I have been impressed with how the achievements have been presented. Previously it was mainly based on completing a level, then completing the level without dying for a majority of achievements. This time it is based more on gameplay such as the destroy 300 droids, or let the wookie win (pop the arms off of 25 stormtroopers).

The downside is the repetition. After playing through both of the previous titles it can be a bit repetitious as you know what to expect for the most part. Some of the new levels are welcome additions like chasing Zam Wessel on Coruscant or the new Gunship Cavalry level and even Anakin’s mission in the bonus area are fun and something different but for a majority of the game you are playing the same game.

What I liked about the game:
– Star Wars and Lego together can’t go wrong
– Xbox Live Support
– New Achievement Structure
– Save and Exit (Full Credit Option)
– True Jedi Status on either story or freeplay (Before had to complete both)
– Best game series for young ones that I have seen

Could Improve
– Repetition
– Cannot skip cut scenes
– Money pick up is awkward and not as tight this time around
– Not the most challenging game
– No character import this time around

Rating
I am actually going to give this two ratings. The first is for if you have children who are interested in gaming. In that case I give it a perfect 10. There is not a better gaming experience (Yes better than Mario Kart) for small kids who want to play an action adventure type of game. The controls are simple, the world is just open enough without frustrating smaller ones and the visuals are very appealing.

For the older audience concerned about gameplay and the like I would lean towards a 7. But don’t let the rating fool you. This is a definite pick up for anyone who is/was a fan of Star Wars or Lego’s and is a must have in your collection.

Next up is the upcoming Indiana Jones lego release and picking up the Lego Star Wars TCS for the Wii. This series is a definite holiday pick up.

Game Review – Assassin’s Creed

acOne word to describe this game… WOW!!! This is a great experience. Ubisoft Montreal (Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, Rainbow 6) is the team behind this outstanding title. The open level design is visually stunning and the puppet system for directing the main character Altair (Arabic for “the flying one”) is probably the best aspect of the game.

The subtle differences between how you interact with the environment is what I really enjoy. You can scale tall buildings, interact with various people in the crowd and you have the option to go “low profile” and eliminate targets without raising too much suspicion. Otherwise you can go “high profile” for all of the world to see your handiwork.

The story revolves around using stealth tactics to eliminate 9 “targets” across 3 major cities. The cityscapes are some of the most visually stunning you will see in a next-gen title and you can interact with all areas of the cities. Prior to getting clearance to take out your targets you perform intelligence tasks such as eavesdropping,  interrogation,  or pickpocketing information while saving citizens and scaling tall buildings to further synchronize your map.

As you progress through the game you gain or “regain” weapons and skills. This is where the control system comes back into play. The subtle ability to counter and attack during combat is one of the most rewarding aspects of the game. Time it just right and you unleash an animation sequence that is impressive and different a majority of times it is activated.

You have the ability to choose your objectives and the order you want to complete them. You have a vast kingdom to explore and many side quests are available if you have the time. The visuals and open world presentation are what truly sets this apart from other titles.

The main negative at this point is that some of the intelligence tasks can get a bit repetitive as you progress further through the game, but the fact that the AI increases in difficulty as you progress through the game makes it a challenge.

The Good:

  • Story
  • Controls
  • Visuals
  • High/Low Profile modes
  • Open Level Design
  • Crowd Interaction

Could be Better:

  • Repetitive Tasks
  • Pacing Issues
  • Cannot forgo conversations once initiated

Overall:

I give it a 9.0. It is definitely one of the better games I have played this year and ranks with Bioshock and Halo in terms of innovation and I highly recommend it!

Other games I am playing this week include: Mass Effect, NFS Prostreet and Spider-man Friend or Foe (w my 5 yr old).

SMS & Marketing

SMS based marketing is definitely on the rise. Why is that? Well for starters think about this. There are 6 billion people on the planet. There are over 3 billion cell phones in circulation. That is equivalent to 2.5 times more cell phones than internet connections!!! That will definitely qualify as a potential market for advertisers.

How many of you have received a text based ad, more importantly did you respond? In the month of September alone 4.7 milllion people in the US responded to an SMS ad. That may seem a bit surprising. I know I was surprised to read that data. The trend is definitely on the upward swing as well. Response rates have steadily risen since May from 4.3 million to 4.7 million in September.

So if 4.7 million people responded, imagine the increasing number of text based ads. Currently a majority of the ads are from the mobile operators centered around their mobile phone service (Downloads, News, Entertainment, etc..) I expect to see an increase of advertisers focus on this medium. Especially with a generation of individuals who rely heavily on this style of communication.

So do not be surprised if you begin to feel that familiar buzz of your phone when you receive a text message and you look and there is some form of advertisement. Be prepared for more messages from your favorite or not so favorite advertisers are coming to a mobile device near you.

 

Game Review – Call of Duty Modern Warfare

cod4logoMy pick for this week was Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare. I was very impressed by the campaign mode of this title except for the lack of co-op play. That would have made the experience that much better. Being able to hold down a position while your friend advances… but that is another story…

COD4 is a big step forward for the series as this is the first venture beyond WWII and the move is welcomed. The basic elements of COD are there… regenerative health, great weapons and frustrating points (you know what I mean…. the spots where you die around 20 times before passing through.) The graphics are first rate and the loading screens keep you interested.

I completed the campaign mode around 6 hours which is relatively short but the gameplay is impressive. You play between the British SAS and USMC and you travel to various hotspots between missions such as Russia and the Middle East. Infinity Ward did a great job (as they did with COD2) and this is a definite step up from COD3. The intensity of COD games of the past are there. The feeling of how am I going to survive this is there. The weapons are there and the story keeps you interested. Again the lack of co-op play downgrades the campaign, but it is fun nonetheless.

The replayability of this game is really tied to multiplayer. One side note for achievement fans, all achievements are tied to the campaign and not a single one is tied to multiplayer. Obviously with multiplayer you look at Halo3 as the standard from matchmaking to tracking your progress (service record) that keep you coming back for more. In my opinion this is where COD4 falls a little short of my expecations. The matchmaking at least for the free for all mode online is not ideal. You have newly minted privates getting owned by 4 star generals with upgraded weapons. I would have liked to have seen matching more on par with actual user levels.

The other issue with the multiplayer is the ease of kills without objectives. By ease of kills I mean you basically look at someone and they are pretty much dead or you will be. There are not a lot of opportunities to engage with someone for more than a second. That is one of the fun and challenging aspects of the Halo multiplayer, just because I see you doesn’t mean I am going to instantly take you down. Also the only options initially are team based or free for all slayer type engagements.

I do like the options to create a class to customize your weapons as well as the concept behind the weapons upgrades being tied to longer gameplay. The barracks section though is a little lacking. I look to the service record on Halo almost daily to see the breakdown of the days events, medals earned and review of maps to see where I can improve.

All in all I would rate COD4 a 9.0 and definitely worthy of your $59.99. Definitely give the campaign mode a go and be ready to have a high death rate on the multi-player, but it is still a good time.

Game Review – Guitar Hero III

Guitar-hero-iii-cover-imageThe game I am playing the most this week is Guitar Hero III. The first day I had it I played through 23 out of the 42 songs on career mode. I would not recommend doing that again as my hand is still numb.

I have to say that the Les Paul wireless guitar is a definite upgrade to the initial Xplorer version. WIth detachable faceplates you can change the look on the fly (Sold Separately). But the most impressive thing about the guitar is the feel. It is very natural with the button placement and just feels right. Being wireless is good as well as when you are thrashing about the living room you don’t pull your Xbox onto the floor.

There are some great songs including the Rolling Stones “Paint it Black” and one thing I was not sure about initially was the battle mode. As you progress through the career you encouter different “legends” such as Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine and Slash of GnR and Velvet Revolver fame. This is also the basis of some of the competition via Xbox Live. Although watch out for the sudden death showdowns if you tie during a battle. Miss a single note and you could be done.

All in all I would recommend GH 3. It is still a fun game with new tracks and a new guitar and having Live access for career co-op or battles is great as that was definitely missing from GH 2.

Other games I am into right now are still Halo 3 and The Orange Box.

One Console

While flying to San Francisco today I read an article that got me thinking… It discussed the fact that it is inevitable that a unified gaming platform is coming. It referenced past examples of commodification (when an item that previously was not a commodity becomes one). The primary example was the cell phone and how it started as a status symbol and they were expensive and all they allowed you do was make calls. Now they are small, play music, record video and for the most part are no longer status symbols… essentially a commodity. 

History shows that technology always becomes commodified and follows similar life cycle patterns. This is now happening with gaming consoles. Gaming consoles today do more than the market wants or needs. Now they serve as your media hub for movies, pictures, the web, etc… Once you reach the point in a products lifeccle where you are positioning more features than the market needs you begin to commoditize your offering. 

The current splits between systems also greatly impact publishers as they have to decide whether they are going to release a title across the major first party systems or go with a proprietary system and receive additional compensation. This model is counter productive in some ways as additional resources are utilized not in the creation or enhancement of the gaming experience but to ensure the game ports to the specific format. Also there is more content being released that is not necessarily competing directly with other titles on other systems. This in turn dilutes the publishers efforts as they are not receiving the type of market penetration that is conducive to larger profit margins.

In esssence these factors will lead to the inevitable which is a one-console future. The article stated that this would not occur because we want one but because the market cannot sustain itself. What would happen if this were the case? You would see a drop in hardware cost and an increase in manufacturers as this would de-emphasizes the importance of the hardware (Think TV’s in recent years) and allows game publishers with 100% market penetration which would lead to cheaper games as publishers would not have to split resources between two versions of the same game. This would also create more of a channel approach to distribution.

What are your thoughts? Is a unified console a reality? Can the market continue to sustain the current fragmentation? If it were based on the current generation consoles I would call it the WiS360… or the PSWii60.

CSDC Live Blogging

This weekend was the first annual Community Server Developer Conference. With around 100 attendees from all over the world discussing development on the Community Server platform as well as sneak previews of upcoming Telligent products it comes as no surprise that there are live updates from the event. 

Kevin Harder was keeping everyone not attending in person up-to-date via his blog. Here are the posts from Saturday morning session and afternoon and here is the post covering Sunday’s sessions. There was a lot of really good information around Community Server including dynamic skinning and theming, and many sessions highlighting items from the upcoming Community Server 2008 release including groups, widgets and the newly created CS web services stack. Other sessions highlighted our upcoming CMS Graffiti, and one of the items I am very excited about, Enterprise Reporting.

The sessions were recorded and will be available very soon.

csdc

Shutout

nhl_2k8This post is short and sweet. For the past few years Rob, myself, Scott Dockendorf, and Kevin Cunningham have played the various Xbox 360 NHL 2Kx titles. (6, 7 and now 8). During this time Rob and I have teamed up against the duo of Kevin and Scott “The Butcher” Dockendorf.

The series have gone back and forth with one team gaining a lead in the overall standings only to have the series even again. But never during the hundreds of games that we have played together has there ever been a shutout… Until today.

Final score Rob/Tom (Calgary) 8… Scott/Kevin (Calgary) 0

This post is not to boast, but to capture the event in all of it’s shocking glory as we chronicle the never ending series of games and to serve as a humble reminder of the fact that yes Scott and Kevin… You were shutout on this day :)

Microsoft Marketing Services

Microsoft has a lofty goal. Within the next 4 to 10 years they look to have advertising account for 25% of Microsoft’s business. Based on recent revenue that would be upwards of $12 billion dollars a year. That represents a couple billion more than Google made in total last year. Think about that for a moment.

Why the sudden interest in advertising? Well to start you can look at the strides Google has made in the space with the AdWords model over the past few years. Combine that with Steve Ballmer’s view that there is an increasingly blurry line between software, media, and advertising and the fact that Microsoft spends $3 billion a year on advertising it’s various products and brands and you can begin to see why this is becoming such a central focus within Microsoft.

It’s great to have a goal, so the next question is how will Microsoft strive to achieve a 12 billion dollar yearly run rate? It will be a major transition going from a software services model to a marketing-services/audience company. It looks as though acquisition will be the plan of attack. Looking back to the recent acquisitions of Avenue A/Razorfish, AdECN, in-game ad serving company Massive and mobile network Screen Tonic shows the initial steps in this direction. There are also many rumors swirling that Microsoft is targeting a deal with Yahoo. Microsoft currently has a goal of 30% of the market where their current search share is 11% and Yahoo currently owns 23% whereas Google owns 56.5%. 

It is true than many agencies outsource the technology pieces and focus on being a strategic partner. Microsoft looks to be focusing on all sides of Marketing-services and advertising. Avenue A/Razorfish highlights the desire to learn more about agency style work while they simultaneously are working on gaining market share in online advertising. This is an interesting move considering that Microsoft is a very partner driven company to date. Product implementation and customization services are handled by Microsoft Consulting Services and various partners from the partner program. And currently Microsoft leverages the services of Young & Rubicam and MRM Worldwide to handle the advertising for its various lines of business. It will be very interesting to see how the acquisitions will go on the Marketing-Services side.

If any team can do it (funding and understanding of technology) it is Microsoft. They have always followed a second to the market mentality, or make it better and faster and endlessly market it. Agency style marketing is not in the corporate Microsoft DNA so it will be very interesting to watch over the next few years.

MySpace & Community Server

Over the past year we have been working with the MySpace.com team to position Community Server as the engine to the MySpace.com forums. Recently the MySpace.com team launched the Community Server powered forums.

From a scalability perspective this posed some unique usage scenarios as MySpace features 70 MILLION users. So when potential clients ask about scalability of the platform we can point to MySpace.com as the example.

The MySpace.com solution went through heavy optimization and is deployed across MySpace.com’s vast server farm to support that level of load. For our more traditional high load sites the CS product team is working to fork the Community Server codebase to introduce new best practices associated with high load communities that will add a lot of value moving forward. Look for this release to coincide with the Community Server 2008 release. 

In the following video our resident film maker Adonis Bitar has published the latest Tellicast discussing our recent partnership with GoDaddy’s “Metropolis” initiative and I talk about how MySpace.com is leveraging Community Server as well as some tips on which Community Server license makes the most sense based on your community size.

MySpace

Game Review – Halo 3

Halo3finallogoIf there was any doubt as to what the game of the week is for me this week it is Halo 3.

Last night Rob Howard, Deryl Dorsett, Elijah Hardin and I all joined forces to blast our way through 2/3 of the campaign mode. The best part of it was that we did it with the phenominal 4 player campaign co-op option.

This is an unprecedented feat for a console based game as Gears of War and Crackdown before it offered some of the best co-op play that I have seen on a console. The 4 player Halo 3 co-op surpasses them both. With a seamless approach and the ability to easily invite your friends all 4 of you can blast the covenant and flood while easily maintaining where your teammates are. The best part for me was the ability to get very aggressive with my play style knowing that someone will survive while a few of us charge in and take out as many enemies as we can.

The Bungie team really did a great job with the game. From the graphics, weapons, and vehicles to the matchmaking system for the online multiplayer matches…the game definitely lived up to they hype. But to me the best feature of the game is the ability to seamlessly play with 3 of your friends through the campaign mode while occasionally causing an incident of “friendly fire“…. sorry Rob it was an accident… really :)

Other games I am playing this week. Skate, NHL 2K8 and Dynasty Warriors: Gundam with my 5 yr. old son.

Microsoft Dallas Halo 3 Pre Launch

Last night I was one of the lucky few to attend the Microsoft Dallas Halo 3 Pre-launch event. This was an invite only gathering to preview and play Halo 3 before the launch and to just have a good time fragging people left and right. The event started with the obligatory swag bag with Halo T-shirt and led to the waiting area prior to entering the gaming lounge.

Once inside the smoke machines were going, the Halo soundtrack was blaring and rows of chairs facing large screens with team slayer mode running for multiple 8 player per sessions. Tournaments, multi-player, and campaign were all options that you could participate in. There were also many door prizes from Microsoft Vista and Office Ultimate to Halo branded goodies. It was great to have early access to the Microsoft team as well as playing one of the most anticipated titles prior to its release.

The graphics were amazing, the new weapons were fun, the controls were sensitive and the ability to customize your Spartans was one of the features that I definitely enjoyed. One of the highlights of the night was going old school in the warthog as the gunner and fragging people left and right. The “beat down” melee attack is still one of my favorite ways to take down an opponent.

I was not one of the few waiting at midnight for the title. I had a good fill during the event to hold me over to the next day, but this morning I did pick up my reserved Legendary Edition of Halo 3 and look forward to once again taking the controls of Master Chief.

halo event - small

Me at the Microsoft Dallas – Halo 3 Pre Launch Event

Legendary-small

Legendary Edition Halo 3 Helmet on my office shelf

Target & Halo 3 Early?

While making a quick stop at a local Target to pick up an office copy of NHL2k8 something interesting caught my eye. I looked at the top shelf behind the plexiglas and to my surprise and bewilderment I saw what appeared to be actual copies of Halo 3 (This is a week prior to the official launch). They were pristine and neatly displayed, ready to be bought. I immediately asked the associate if I could see one of the copies to confirm that they were in fact the real deal… They were…

As he handed me one of the most highly anticipated releases in recent memory a voice went off in my head…. I HAVE to tell him the release date… So as I stood there with the game in hand and 20 feet from a register I say the following… “Isn’t the release date the 25th???” With that said a look of shock then horror came over the associate. Within a minute we were bombarded by a team of Target employees each one grabbing all the neatly stacked copies and taking them to an undisclosed location.

From what I understand the copies had just been placed into the case and no units had been sold. Also, the pre-sale of major releases can be met with fines, and possible firing from some organizations so I felt as though I had to clear my mind and reiterate the date. I was later told of a thread regarding Xbox Live and Halo that threatened to ban Live accounts that were not authorized to play the game prior to the release date which has subsenquently been refuted by Microsoft.

Regardless, the early Halo 3 titles are now safely locked away for another week without a single thank you from the team that almost made a monumental mistake.