Monday, November 24, 2008

The Dark Secrets of Social Networking

The darker side of social networking has come to the limelight with the ongoing US trial of Lori Drew, the 49-year-old lady who has been charged of cyber bullying. Considered a landmark case, this is proof of the power of social networking to change lives, albeit in a negative manner.

The case revolves around the apparent cyber bullying by Lori Drew of a 13-year-old girl on the social networking site My Space. The girl later killed herself. Due to the pioneering nature of the case, Ms Drew has been charged with laws that usually pertain to company hackers.

The case is one of impersonation and cyber bullying, the further details of which can be read here. What is interesting is with social networking having become so deeply ingrained in our lives, will it soon become part and parcel of Sociology theory? Surely we are already seeing the effects of Social networking on society at large – after all it did help play a key role in putting the next American President in the Oval Office! An inclusion of social networking theory in the fundamentals of sociology and how people interact will definitely reflect the changing times.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

When you cant fight them join them!

The problem of music piracy is an age-old one and dates back to the times of Napster. Today with a plethora of torrent sites and improving internet speeds it is very easy to download an entire album of your favourite artist right to your desktop and promptly load it onto your ipod or mp3 player. If that isn’t enough, there are a plethora of video sharing sites like YouTube from which you could watch or rip music videos from.

Therefore, it is interesting when a music company decides to join the crowd and officially host a music video on YouTube. The first time I saw this was Polydor hosting the new Boyzone music video on YouTube. This seems to be a smart move, keeping to the times. One should note that this video can only be watched and can not be embedded on any page. The question remains however, how do record companies generate revenue from such a model of free content being displayed? Recently Britney Spears was dismayed that her latest music video from her upcoming album was leaked onto the internet even before it was aired on TV. An example of which is going to be the dominant medium in the years to come? Perhaps, but the changing scene of the music industry is definitely worth a watch.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Thought Processing

A friend of mine recently showed me an article talking about a new input device for gaming – the human mind. Far from science fiction, it’s finally happened, mankind is on the threshold of developing such a viable interface device.

Is this progress or is this another sign of technological determinism. Today we already see a world where mobile phone technology has dominated our lives. Most of us can barely fathom being unplugged, at the result becoming more and more at the beck and call and whims and fancies of all our friends and associates. True there are those ardent few who haven’t hopped onto the mobile bandwagon or draw the line where being connected is concerned. But what would the world turn into if your mind could be plugged into your computer.

One major hurdle in such an interface is the kind of concentration it would take. It reminds me of a Dale Brown novel, The Flight of the Cheetah, which talks of a experimental aircraft that is thought controlled. The author describes the process of hooking up to the aircraft to being literally nerve wracking as the computer interfaces with the nervous system. Not so the case here I expect. But will we be able to concentrate when we live lives of channel and internet surfing and our average rate of concentration seems to be plummeting? Time will tell where this technology will take us. Right now it seems like something right out of Arthur C Clarke’s 3001 Final Space Odyssey.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Future of Computing

A quick look at what’s retailing in IT stores reveals an interesting trend. The price of entry level computing seems to be dropping. However, this remains untrue for state-of-the-art, truly cutting-edge hardware. Also the revision time between two successive product releases are falling drastically. This is very evident in the graphic card industry, what with Nvidia launching a new card so close on the heels of its nine series cards. The new second generation of graphic cards not only pack a punch, but cost as much as an entry level assembled PC for most Indians.

So has anything changed since the inception of computing in our country? A close look at the online scenario and you will realise that over the years a number of online applications have popped up. What’s more these applications are offered free of cost! This reduces the cost of purchasing legitimate software, as these online versions are equally versatile as compared to popular installable software. The list of such applications is endless and I will not even attempt to start listing these out here, a few notable ones that come to the mind include Google Notes, and Adobe’s Photoshop Express. We see more and more online applications being built that replace desktop software, perhaps this is where the future of computing lies.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Click that Celebrity!

It is interesting to note the various degrees of how celebrities tap the internet to brand themselves. At one end of the scale are celebrities who have absolutely no official web presence, closely followed by those who seem to have sites designed by the lowest bidder. On the other end are those that have well planned sites that help build the celebrity as a brand, are informative, and promote various merchandise at the same time.

A few of the well-designed official sites that I came across were that of Nelly Furtado, Maria Sharapova, Avril Lavigne, Emma Watson and Emmy Rossum. Nelly’s site caught my eye because of the design, which was synonymous with the trademark font that she uses on her album covers.

Maria Sharapova is astounding when one takes into consideration the wealth of information and the presentation layout. Sharapova’s site like that of co-tennis player Anna Kournikova has adopted a strong co-branding strategy, with her sponsors products being highlighted time and again. Her site is media rich with a number of photo slideshows, videos, forums etc.

The only person who managed to trump this depth of content was Avril Lavigne who even included content for mobiles, a link to her Myspace account, and a picture of her Weemee. Avril’s site even uses Google to automatically translate the site into ten languages!

For those celebrities who lacked an online presence it is interesting to see the quality work fans and communities have undertaken to highlight the celebrity. True this is not a replacement for the celebrities own site but some of these sites come very close, with stunning designs and rich content. I was suitably impressed by a fansite for Shia LaBeouf of Transformers and Indiana Jones fame, which delivered content succinctly.

What is truly interesting is how certain celebrities have started ‘official’ social networking pages. These profiles are supposedly updated by the celebrities themselves or by their press team. This development is not only interesting from a web development point of view, but interesting from a social perspective as well. Celebrities who do set up such pages come across as open people who like to keep in touch with their fans. Going a step further would be seeing celebrities starting their own video blogs. Alternately, such blogs are integrated into official sites – such as in the case of Anna Kournikova.

The downside to celebrity branding online is sites that masquerade or allude to be official sites, or official sites that are are not done well. One site that was strictly OK was Charlize Theron’s site, which though was pretty clean failed to impress after having considered the competition. The page that was really a let down was the so-called official page of Ms Keira Knightley on My Space. One has to wonder if this indeed is an official page. It's most likely not, with dozens of so called Keria Knightley profiles on MySpace. If it is indeed her official page, Ms Knightley should have a look at Emmy Rossum's site perhaps for inspiration!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Marrying Technology with Creativity

In order to tap the online medium effectively for branding and advertising it is critical to understand what the medium is capable of doing. This means not only having a working knowledge and understanding of the capabilities that the latest web authoring languages and web development software provides, but also use this technical know how to execute focused, interactive messages to customers creatively.

One such technology employed time and again is using system time in screensavers. One of the pioneering brands to do this was Tag Heuer with their screen savers. What’s more, we have even seen a number of innovative banner ads that have captured a viewer’s system time. One of the most memorable of such ads was the FedEx ad, which arranged FedEx boxes in the shape of a digital clock. Recently I came across yet another ad that cleverly synergises this technology with simple yet well executed graphics and copy.

The ad in question was for Rolex and associated the brand with the heritage of Wimbledon. The ad starts with highlighting some of the games greatest moments at Wimbledon and ended with a shot of the face of the watch, which displayed the system time and date with the heading saying – ‘One face has seen it all’. This is a clever use of marrying technology with branding. The placement of the ad also played a critical role in its success as it was found on the Tennis section of Viewers who are truly captivated with this ad can even head over to the Rolex website where they can download screensavers with a number of different Rolex watches showcased, all accurately displaying system time.

Friday, June 27, 2008

So why use a splash page in the first page?

In the previous post I discussed problems associated with sites using splash pages. Here I touch upon why a Flash page should be incorporated into a site.

Flash splash pages are ideal when the web designer needs to test browser / plug-in compatibility, choose screen sizes, or provide an option between a high bandwidth flash enabled site and a low bandwidth HTML one. The splash page acts as the cross roads of a process funnel, directing users how they may interact with the site. It is also ideal for sites that need to post warning message or disclaimers about the content of the site, or if the site is multi lingual.

Splash pages are often used by creative boutiques, individual photographers, designers as an ability to showcase creativity. Here the intro Flash can help set the mood to highlight how the company wishes to promote its services, people expect such companies to be able to dazzle with their creativity and such an intro to a site is often expected.

When and if a Flash Splash page is to be used there are ways to increase the effect. One way is to use a cookie to track if a user is a repeat user. This will then automatically redirect the user to the home page bypassing the Flash-Splash. Using a text or graphic ‘Enter Site’ is an ideal alternative for skip intro and helps people who may be new to the internet. Users usually expect flash pages to load slowly, providing the user interesting facts in the pre-loader or an activity to do while they wait for the splash to load is good way to keep them occupied and prevent them from switching sites.

Lets Splash with Flash

As the web evolved over the years, we have seen a number of innovations and gimmicks that have come and gone. One such marvel is splash pages made in Flash. Splash pages in Flash were originally envisioned to be akin to digital book covers – aiming to provide a feel and set the mood for the site to come, helping spark off the anticipation.

The question for the modern day interactive marketer is when to use a Flash splash page and whether it is truly effective. With the average click attention spans pegged at about 3 clicks use of a Flash Splash needs to be carefully evaluated. For a repeat user having a splash page doesn’t provide any value to the visit as he is most likely to skip the intro, having seen it previously, in such a scenario it is merely an obstacle to where he wants to get to.

From an SEO perspective, Flash pages are not considered a boon due to the absence of keywords and the fact that these pages usually have one link (leading into the site) and are rarely cross-linked. The fact that Flash Splash pages have redirects make it even more less likely that the page will be listed by a search engine. Some search engines crawl through only the first three levels of a site and a splash page is effectively the first level. This is yet another way in which a Flash Splash affects the SEO chances of a site.

Taking into consideration the drawbacks of using a Flash Splash, one option is to provide the user with a skip intro option. This however insinuates that the content of the intro is not of primary importance, leading to the issue of credibility. The splash also detracts viewers from the homepage. If a viewer gets frustrated with the load-times, he encounters for an intro animation he might just head elsewhere, even landing on a competitors site! Thus, the splash page acts as a barrier to the site’s primary offerings. Bailout rates for splash pages have been found to range from 16% to 71% for splash screens (Nielsen 1998, Sullivan 1997, Marlatt 1999).

Monday, June 16, 2008

Computing the Potential of IT in Retail

With retail booming across India it is high time to take a closer look at the impact IT has on the retail scene. It is a well known fact that today’s retailers are highly dependent on IT for processes such as stock keeping. The question that poses the interactive advertiser is, how can IT be leveraged profitably within the retail space to promote products.

One solution that has been implemented in certain stores such as Shopper Stop is store specific interactive displays. These are screens that are very similar to the Out of Home advertising screens that have popped up around metros. The differentiating factor being that these screens are focussed on in-store promotions.

The next logical step would be to use OHP LCD projectors to project brand specific messages within the store on a larger scale. Interactive kiosks could be effectively used for white goods and high involvement purchases, allowing consumers to discover the features of products showcased. This would educate customers and alleviate the burden on the sales force (which is often ill-equipped to deal with customer queries anyway.)

Beyond the obvious and what perhaps may have the most potential is in-store IT enabled announcements. In-store announcements as it exists today are dull and boring, employees who read out offers are merely doing it to make their daily bread and put no emotion into it. The result, an irritating cacophony that no one is really paying attention to within the store. The need for the day therefore is an automated system that generates in-store announcements that have some feeling to it. The problem is that the system would need to be highly dynamic to be able to keep up with constant changing offers.

A possible business model would be to have studios that are established for the sole purpose of recording such in-store announcements for retail chains. This could result in announcements that are not only pleasing to the ear but might actually induce customers to inquire about the offer at hand.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Reverse Psychology Marketing Online

In the previous post we discussed what reverse psychology marketing is all about. The question that it poses is how does reverse psychology marketing affect the cyber branding scenario.

The online medium is ideal for effectively adapting reverse psychology marketing strategies. Remember that the core of reverse psychology marketing is cost efficiencies and using a hub system to dissipate the brand. Promoting a brand by an online presence if done right can be more cost effective in the long run.
Online social networking sites and blogs are the key tools to start this snowballing effect. If people start talking about a product on these sites it is likely that public curiosity will be aroused and a chain reaction will ensue.

The entire concept of Web 2.0 is a manifestation of reverse psychology marketing online. Sites that rely on user generated content act as online hubs similar to the opinion leaders in the real world. Having customer post positive experiences with a brand on sites like Digg and Stumble Upon will naturally lead to more hits on the brands main website.

The brands official website replaces the real world store in such a strategy. The focus on such brand sites should be usability and practicality and not necessarily bells and whistles, this will ensure more return visitors. The ability for the user to interact with the site is another hook that draws return visitors. The fact that reverse psychology marketing plays down heavy traditional ad spends means an online reverse psychology branding exercise should do likewise eliminating spending on banner ad placements by affiliate linking and SEM strategies.

Some brands seek to engineer such visits by writing general interest articles on a number of free article hosting sites like Ezine articles. The article usually has a link to a specific site at the end for further information. This however can not be considered to be an active reverse psychology strategy due to the time and effort it takes and the fact it is more push than pull.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg as to how the online medium can be used for reverse psychology marketing activities. The possibilities that the medium poses is endless.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Reverse Psychology Marketing

The face of marketing is changing. Brands have to work harder and harder to ensure that they retain their customers. We have seen the dawn of hybrid shopping patterns where people purchase exclusive brands only to mix them with products of lesser everyday brands. There are now no fixed demographic or psychographic segments that a brand can target alone without losing potential of other segments. Customers are exhibiting the ‘good enough’ effect where they are willing to try out a new brand because they feel existing brands are charging premiums without enough differentiation. This in turn has lead to the rise of flourishing in-store brands.

Reverse psychology marketing is the new buzz on the street. Unlike traditional marketing models that primarily focus on a push strategy, reverse psychology marketing is all about pull marketing and customer discovery. Why people are talking about reverse psychology marketing is the fact that it is not only more cost efficient than traditional marketing but seen to be more effective in the long run as well.

Like traditional marketing reverse psychology marketing focuses on the product. However the emphasis here is the need for a more cost efficient product. Instead a focus is on creating better buyer networks and buyer chains ensue the product is distributed successfully.

Products no longer require large marketing budgets to be sold; instead the brand relies on a hub model where it seeds the brands amongst key influencers in society. These people or publics endorse the product which in turn has a massive trickle down effect chain reaction. These hubs are opinion leaders, often of iconic status in society constantly in the limelight such as Ophrah Winfrey.

A classic example of how reverse psychology marketing is energy drink Red Bull. Red Bull was promoted by having the product seeded amongst disc jockeys, bartenders, college students and formula one. The effectiveness of such a strategy lies in the fact that you don’t run after customers, you let them come to you – to discover what your brand has to offer. The strategy is potent because customers are growing weary of constant marketing spiel being thrown at them from every angle.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

What Sites May Come - When Death Means Business

Few years back, a movie, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, was released. Though a flop at the time, due to the competition it faced from Hrithik Roshan’s Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai; which was also released at the same time, the movie tried to convey a concept that was way ahead of its time. The movie brought to light a unique side of marketing and the role of media. It was ahead of its time in portraying how the TV channels and media use everything for commercial purposes. The film actually depicts live coverage of an execution ceremony, complete with interviews of the hangman. The media company is even seen to ensure the prisoner, endorse some brands. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani created a lot of confusion and anger amongst its audience and eventually, this novell concept was not appreciated by many people.

A Pakistani burial service started an online service, few days back. Through this service, people who are staying outside Pakistan can now bid farewell to their deceased relatives, by logging into this website. Each individual can login by their unique login ID, and the individual can see the burial service, the place of the final resting place of their loved one, from some other country.
How the above two examples are connected? Ironically, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani makes a dig at sponsorships and how television medium has been taken over by multi-crore companies. The film itself was a platform for promoting various brands like Swatch, Hyundai, and VIP etc. Television is yesterdays story; today it is all about internet, online media, social networking. So, when this Pakistan based burial service went online, it is easily understandable, that after few months, after this service gains recognition, other organizations will start propounding and promoting brands and services related to burial services, online. This might be as affiliate links or as separate e-commerce ventures.

For example some entrepreneur may start a flower service using this platform, by promising to deliver the fresh flowers at the burial ground. This need not even be a one off affair. A subscription offer might be provided where for example, each Wednesday, the company will deliver the fresh flowers to the particular grave, for a discounted fee. And people, all around the globe can enjoy this by using YouTube or similar streaming video service. And if some user of this service wanted it to be online, he/she can go to Second Life, and can virtually create it, to show his/her fellow “Residents”, the resting place of the loved one.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Dont Wait for that Computer to Start

Memsistor, the missing link in Basic Electronics. Based on a theory proposed by LEON CHUA (1970) this device can alter the way we use our Computers, Notebooks and similar devices. Chua proposed that, apart from the three basic elements of passive circuit-inductor, capacitor and resistor; there needs to be a fourth one, a MEMORY RESISTOR or MEMSISTOR.

With the help of Memsistor, a computer can boot up instantly, eliminating the need for users to wait at all. The best part is the computer will restart from the same state from where the user turned it off. In today’s computer, the DRAM, or Dynamic random access memory, performs the same task, but only when the system is powered on. Once the system is switched off, the DRAM, loses all the data, registry allocation and address of the programs stored in it. When the user switches on the computer, subsequently the DRAM has to fetch the details of the program from the hard disk. This process can be time consuming, depending on the computers configuration. Memsistor, now allows users to power off their computer any time allowing them to resume their work, without any delay. This is a very interesting application of Memsistor. This technology is still under research and development, and the scientists at HP have shown great interest at the potential it offers.

This technology has numerous practical applications and benefits. First and foremost, users don’t have to wait, for the system to boot up. This means that in third world countries where there is a possibility of power failure, users don’t have to worry about losing data, as everything resides in the Memsistor allowing users to continue where they left off once the power comes back on. For movie lovers who watch movies on their computer can resume watching the movie from the same location, from where they stopped the movie without having to start from the scratch. This mean he no longer has to restart the media player, search for the media file, play and drag the progress bar to the label where he was early. Gamers will benefit, as high system requirement, low virtual memory, or software bugs, can cause the system to automatically turn off as a preventive measure. With the new system the gamer will eliminate the need to have to start the game from the last checkpoint or last save, which otherwise can be very irritating.

On the downside, is the memory size requirement of a Memsistor. According to theory, the Memsistor will remember all the data address and the last location of the program, so that it can restart immediately. If this is the case, unless the user erases the earlier addresses using some command or by some method, the amount of data stored on the Memsistor will be huge.

In conventional computers, the DRAM only remembers those addresses, which are running at a time, so that the program can be accessed faster. However, once the program is closed or the system is turned off, all the addresses and location are erased from the DRAM. Today, the minimum requirement of a conventional computer is around 2 GB Ram to 4 GB of Ram. So what will be the size for a Memsistor? We have to wait three to four years for the answer. In concept it sounds really good and if it proves a success then, then the world of computing will change…again.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mobile Marketing Empowering End Users

Picture this, you are out somewhere with friends and while walking past a classy store display you see some tech gadget that catches your eye. Though you would like to stop your gang of buddies has only one thing on their mind – food! While you queue up for a quick bite at a fast food joint your mind is still ticking away about what you’ve just seen. What do you do? Pull out your mobile phone and log onto supposedly India’s first product and price search engine for mobile users.

The site, an initiative of AXAAN Systems Pvt Ltd covers a wide range of gadgets from laptops, digital cameras, mobile phones, pen drives and many more. The site is a boon for customers who want to know a little bit more information at the time of purchase and who don’t want to engage that pesky salesman. However, their internet site does not exactly stand out of the crowd and seems similar to other run of the mill shopping sites one comes across.

To use this site a person merely needs to send an SMS to 53030 typing ‘CG’ to get price quotes for any product. Company officials are yet to declare whether this search facility is provided free of charge or whether there is a cost attached. For now, the site highlights the potential of synergising an interactive strategy with a mobile one.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Software Piracy

Just consider this: you are a programmer or developer, and after spending almost 16 hours a day for months or may be years, you’ve launched your software package in the market. But before the sale of the product actually starts you find that the market is flooded with illegal/pirated copies of the product. Imagine how it would feel? For many of us Indians, it really doesn’t matter at all. Purchasing pirated software is almost a birth right. We are habituated to purchasing our pirated copies. After all who’ll pay 1000 or more bucks when the pirated version is available only for 40-200 bucks? And sometimes, for free also!

Let’s take an example of one of the very popular action games; MAX PAYNE 2: THE FALL OF MAX PAYNE. When the product was launched in Indian market the price of the original version was Rs. 2199. As a gamer looking for the game in the market, I was surprised when I saw that the Game was selling in the grey market for only Rs 100. Like me there are thousands of gamers all over India who bought the game for Rs 100 saving Rs 2099 in the process. The extra money they saved was probably used to purchase another 20 odd games.

Now we all know that this is an unethical practice but what else does a gamer do in this kind of situation? As long as the prices of games/software are that high average gamer can’t afford to buy original ones. On the other hand, from the business point of view companies make tremendous losses. This issue has lead to many great software companies actually shutting shop or falling prey to big companies that acquire them (Game loft’s Mobile gaming division at PUNE for example was acquired by UBISOFT recently).

One possible solution to this dilemma is to have the Indian government reduce the various tax levels being levied on imported software, so that everyone can buy the original version. However, it is not only the responsibility for the Government alone, the Developer and Publishers also must consider the problem of piracy due to the high rice and distribution. Many a time, the original softwares are unavailable in Indian market. So, to satisfy the need, users turn to the grey market. With a proper price point, strict IT rules and policy about software piracy, supported by a proper distribution channel, the piracy scenario can be reduced. According to Mr. Vishal Gondal, CEO and Founder of India Games, if the piracy can be stopped, then the profit margin from selling softwares will increase up to 70%. Today, the total game market in India, is around $ 500 mn, but if the piracy can be reduced up to 20% of the current level, then it could be somewhere around $ 1.7 Bn Market.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Using Social Networking Sites for Marketing

Social marketing sites are the current craze. Everywhere you turn everybody seems to be on one network or the other. It’s being covered in every media – the cartoonists are making fun of it, the social gurus are harking about the ramifications it has on the society at large and each and every teen that’s has access to a computer seems to be hooked. With all these people plugged in social networking sites provide immense potential to marketers across the world.

The number of interest groups that blossom on these social networking sites makes it easy for any marketer to deliver focussed communication to their target audience. One such innovative example has been developed by Toyota. The company teamed up with Juxt Interactive to develop an application that Facebook users could integrate into their profiles. Known as Keep Rollin’ the application highlights the new Toyota Corolla 2009.

The application is a game that blends decision making with a number of arcade mini games. While weaving a captivating story the application carefully introduces the reader to various features of the new 2009 Corolla. The game offers every player two paths putting the player in various seemingly real life situations, some of which involve the featured product. With the ability to play against friends online and to share the application this is an excellent example of how to tap social networking to meet marketing needs. If you have, a Facebook profile and wish to experience this application click here.