Monday, 29 November 2010

Facebook’s recent launches may have run Foursquare out of town.

Many thousands of moons ago in the digital world (about 2006). I used to have a theory about social networking sites. This theory was that they had a half life, a bit like a piece of radioactive waste. The theory stood up quite well for a season of conference speeches, as Friends Reunited, Bebo, Second Life (I like to think my ’get yourself a first life’ comment helped this particular site’s demise) and even the mighty MySpace lost favour with their previously fanatical users.

Then along came Facebook, and I needed another theory (or a longer time span to judge it by.)

However as The Social Network was going big and hitting Hollywood, the latest piece of mass owned technology (geo-tagging on smart phones) was spawning a number of threats to Facebook. Gowalla, Rummble, Foursquare and numerous other location based services have been gaining traction by getting users to Check in their location via their smart phones in order to let their friends, fans or mere digital acquaintances know their whereabouts.

Bright Young Things

Briefly Foursquare has been the digerati’s new favourite social app. I was staggered to hear that over 4500 people earned an ’Epic Swarm’ badge by checking in simultaneously at a recent American Football game, until I realised that it was a 49er’s game in San Francisco down the road from Silicon Valley and smart phone penetration was probably about 200%. Therefore the market usage figure for Foursquare was disappointingly low!

Then in August this year Facebook Places was launched. Has Facebook Places killed Foursquare dead overnight?

I used to run a media company full of bright young things who had already binned Facebook as too mass, and not cool (read “geeky”) enough for their liking.

No doubt this lot will be part of the five million current users of Foursquare and will for the time being carry on gathering “Mayorships” and earning badges.

The problem for Foursquare is that the launch of Facebook Places will not only stall its consumer growth plans - as Facebook Places is automatically added to Facebook profiles - its companion service Facebook Deals also drives a sledgehammer through Foursquare’s commercial aspirations. (Don’t feel too sorry for Foursquare’s founders, who took out $4.6m in the last round of funding).

Facebook has spend the last five years getting brands to set up pages and fan bases. These communities can now be carefully harvested and the investment payback started through offering Facebook Deals to those checking in.

Freedom of choice

So is this the future for new brands on the web? Launch, wait for one of the big boys to copy your best bits and deliver it seamlessly to their larger audience base, then quietly drift into the ethersphere and a become a distant memory? It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Wasn’t the internet supposed to encourage freedom, proliferation of brands and consumer choice? The actuality is that it is dominated by a hegemony of superbrands: Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon. The web is increasingly offering consumers a parsimonious choice of suppliers.

Forget Chris Anderson’s long tail. Consumer herd mentality has meant that the internet is like a docked Weimaraner. Nothing wagging here except tongues in Mountain View.

Talking of Google, the recent news of Facebook launching an email service is perhaps harder to understand than its launch of Places. There is already messaging and chat on the service and by Zuckerberg’s own admission, kids don’t use email.

But if Google’s failed social network Buzz was a shot across Facebook’s bow then the announcement of the email service for all 500 million Facebook account holders is a broadside against the Big G.

Those that have seen recent user stats from the USA will have seen Facebook overtake Google in terms of time spent with each brand. The addition of Places, Deals and now mail will have ramifications in even the most powerful board rooms of the West Coast.

So back to the death of Foursquare.

The good thing with Foursquare is that users still have the control in the way they communicate their location other people in their network. You can still check-in in secret, just for your own amusement.

Facebook Places current set up means that you subject all of your friends to your updates all of the time, spammer status assured. Unless your friends switch off their notifications (of which there are already detailed guides on how to do on YouTube) your status updates all automatically.

A previous oft quoted rule of website creation was, if you do one thing, do it well. For a limited constituency of Foursquare users then this rule may prevail.

Now I’m off to oust Rina our own pet digerati as Mayor of HMDG.

Original article can be found in Marketing Week.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Life's a pitch

8 November 2010 by Greg Grimmer

Greg Grimmer, partner, Hurrell Moseley Dawson & Grimmer, talks pitches: “Bad news, say goodbye to your social life, friends and family, you are going to spend the next three, four or maybe even six weeks producing endless data and charts that my boss will throw away 24 hours before the pitch to make up his own version that the client will hate and violently disagree with”…

As we approach the silly seasonal time of the year and the awards season takes full hold of the marketing world’s social life, I thought it was time to reflect on another year of client/agency pitches and the enormous time and emotional cost that these sometimes fruitless exercises inflict upon the marketing supplier world.

For anyone that has spent time in an ad agency, media agency or digital agency (and there seems to be a growing number of people on the media owner side of the fence who have done) they will remember the dread of their manager wandering over to their desk with an awkward smile on their face and proclaiming: “Good news you are working on the so and so pitch”…

Reading between the lines what they really mean is: “Bad news, say goodbye to your social life, friends and family, you are going to spend the next three, four or maybe even six weeks producing endless data and charts that my boss will throw away 24 hours before the pitch to make up his own version that the client will hate and violently disagree with.”

It didn’t always used to be like this. I, like others of my era, used to view new business as a preferential hobby, one that challenged you to look at new markets and gave you a chance to impress the boss, get a pay rise and have a night out on the lash (win or lose)… So why the change?

Well part of this shift can be blamed on the economy – my business partner Nick Hurrell has a great line on this when he says we are looking for clients who are looking to get married, not ones that are coming out of a messy divorce… meaning that the best clients appoint a new agency to start something new, not to leave something bad.

However, I was drawn to the recent YouView creative pitch, where you can’t help noticing the chaos surrounding the creative appointment of Adam and Eve. This was after a big headline in the trade press saying that CHI had been appointed but lost the business because of a clash with their TalkTalk business, and among rumours that RCY+R were also close to the appointment but fell down because of their BBC ties. Somewhere in the process, OMD got appointed despite their (or maybe because of their) long standing relationship with Channel 4.

What a mess, and this was a client without an incumbent! Now I’m sure there is no one party to blame in this case and we have all worked on pitches where there seem to be underhand practices at play, but usually the winning agency and client senior team get to work well moving forward. However, for the winning agency team it is often the case of one thing worse than losing a pitch is winning a pitch…

So, what are the other causes of this general pitch malaise? My agency HMDG was recently tipped off by one of the many pitch brokers that exist in the sector that our credentials, approach, and work were liked by a client and to expect to be included in the pitch list. Four weeks down the line, after supplying copious documents and case studies, we were informed that as a young company without the necessary bureaucratic processes in place we were unable to proceed. A bit like the clash situation, it seems to be an excuse. “No we don’t have any live fashion business and neither did we at the start of the process six weeks ago so why put us through the mill!”… “Yes we handle one of your minor competitors in Asia and have done since you first asked us to pitch!”… Irritating and annoying but too often excuses given by the client procurement team at the end of an unsuccessful process.

Now any sales professionals reading this will probably be thinking get over yourself Greg. We have to pitch daily (to often poorly prepared or non existent agency briefs) and it is true, sales teams have to pitch constantly and will undoubtedly suffer disappointment more often than not. This is one reason that despite being one of the more sales orientated agency folk, I still doff my cap to those on the other side of the fence, the job you do is tough. This notwithstanding, the fundamental difference is that agency pitches normally have to produce bespoke content for each and every pitch and media owners will normally re-cycle the majority of the content. Also on the agency side, a field of 10 will only produce one winner, whereas there can be multiple winners on the media owner side.

So what can be done? Well better understanding the procurement industry remains a goal for most of the agency new business people I know. Also, being clearer, stronger and better prepared for the pitches you do want to participate in must be a prerequisite… (I remember gaining more respect from my management team after walking away from a pitch than I ever did for winning one). It is the life blood of any business and especially in agency life, as my first creative director told me very early on in my advertising career. There’s only one thing guaranteed in advertising, you will lose business!

This cheerful ditty keeps me going on the new business trail, looking for those clients who want ambitious, forward thinking work for their business. The pitch won’t go away but try and enjoy it and don’t treat it as a punishment – it should be a chance to recommend new things and have some fun in the process.

So, life’s a pitch but then you try (and try again)…