Carnival & Delta monetize their Facebook fans

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Recently Carnival Cruise Lines and my employer Razorfish announced the launch of a new Facebook application that makes it possible for people to collaborate with their social network to plan vacation cruises. Cruise enthusiasts can explore different types of vacation options and involve their Facebook friends in the planning and booking of a cruise. Interestingly, the announcement occurs days after Delta Air Lines said it would start selling flights on Facebook.

The Carnival and Delta announcements show how companies are linking social media to commercial transactions — and also how brands can mine customer data gathered on cloud computing platforms like Facebook. It’s one thing for companies to build brand awareness and consumer goodwill by making use of the conversational power of social. But Carnival is looking for a way to tap into its 251,000 Facebook fans (and counting) for transactional value, not just brand appeal, as is Delta with its 39,000 fans.

Moreover, there is a subtle but crucial difference in the approaches taken by Delta and Carnival. Delta aims to keep its customers on its Facebook app for the duration of the booking process. But Carnival directs consumers from its Facebook page to Carnival.com to complete a booking. Both approaches have their advantages. While Delta’s approach is more self-contained, Carnival can expose consumers to branded content on Carnival’s own turf. Consequently Carnival seeks to take more ownership of its social experience.

Forrester Research data suggest that both Carnival and Delta are making the right moves by building upon their Facebook pages. According to a July 28 report written by Henry Harteveldt, 26 million leisure travelers in the U.S. began using social media over the past two years. Seventy two percent of U.S. online travelers (nearly 100 million people) participate in social media at least once a month. In the report, “How Travel eBusiness Can Engage Conversationalists, the New Social Media Group,” Henry urges travel companies to add a booking engine to their social network pages.

Razorfish helped conceptualize, create, and design the Carnival Facebook app (a first of its kind in the cruise line industry).

Threadless mantra: be human & find friends

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This blog post comes to you live from the PSFK Chicago Salon, “Fueling Imagination.” During a morning session, Mig Reyes, Brock Rumer, and Colleen Wilson discuss the employee culture inside Threadless, the successful T-shirt designer and merchandiser that famously crowdsources designs.

The Threadless team expresses bemusement at all the news media attention devoted to Threadless. To them, there is no secret to the success of Threadless: be human and rely on friends. That’s all there is to it: seek ideas for T shirt designs, quickly act on the good ones, and be cool to people as you do it. Spread good karma and get good karma.

According to Team Threadless, successful T-shirt design ideas can come from anywhere including inside Threadless — customer service, the CEO, anywhere. And it’s not just a matter of crowdsourcing designs — Threadless also crowdsources ideas for improving the way the company operates. Mig says that encouraging employees to generate ideas was inspired by Facebook and Google, two companies that make it a point to set aside time for employees to think creatively.

According to Brock, Threadless discourages prima donna behavior and encourages employees to embrace their inner whackiness, including the manner in which employees tweet. According to Colleen and Mig, Threadless also encourages people to be human.  The culture is open with a come-as-you-are vibe in the office. (“We want to work with people who are not afraid to embarrass themselves,” says Mig.) And that authenticity extends to the way Threadless markets itself. Threadless does not typically use models to show off its T shirts but real employees who look like you and me. If the company makes a mistake, a real person owns up to the problem and deals with it. You don’t get a bland “Sorry for your inconvenience” message from a phone tree if a T-shirt order is botched, but a “Man, we messed up” from a real employee — a personal approach partly inspired by Zappos, Mig says.

Have fun. Be human. Be respectful. And do it all with friends. Those are the principles of the Threadless culture. And that culture shines through in its marketing and service approach.

PS: great to be at a PSFK Salon and meeting Piers Fawkes, and I enjoyed reconnecting with Brock, a former Razorfish Chicago colleague.

New Intel site challenges assumptions about how we shop

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An Intel Core Processor isn’t the sort of product a consumer can test drive before buying — or is it?

As described in Brandweek, my employer Razorfish recently launched for Intel a new website that makes it possible for consumers to learn more about Intel Core processors — not through a “how to” description but via an interactive experience that includes a product test drive.

According to Malia Supe, Razorfish client partner on the Intel account, the Razorfish design team was guided by a single goal: convince consumers that the right processor is key to their purchasing decision, and do so in three steps: Explore, Test Drive, and Shop. That’s because computing power ranks high on the list of considerations for buying a new device, but it’s not apparent to consumers that choosing a more powerful computer starts with choosing the right processor.

“With the new Intel Core Experience, we want to focus on the needs of mainstream computer users who might not understand or care about the role a processor plays in their purchase decision,” Malia told me. “These consumers trust Intel as a brand, but they need help understanding why the processor is important to their overall computing experience.”

So here’s how the site works: you are asked to identify the most common way you use a computer (via two simple questions). Based on your input, the site recommends the best processor for your needs. For instance, let’s say you identify music as one of your computing needs. From there, the site will ask if you need computing for listening or creating music. If you’re a listener but do not need the computing power to create content, the site might recommend, say, the the Intel Core i3. Then with a click of a “start shopping” button, you can shop for a computer or laptop with that processor.

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In all the site identifies five activities to guide your Test Drive: music, photography, home computing, entertainment, and gaming.

According to Malia, “Our approach to the site experience is something new for both consumers and the industry: put the processor ahead of the computer as a starting point for making a purchase decision. We are guiding consumers from the inside-out of the computer, which really turns on its head the conventional thinking about how we shop. Designing the experience around consumers’ passions, such as music and photography, is the key to our approach. No matter their passion, consumers can see how their behaviors drive processor recommendations, and they can identify the ideal processors for their needs.”

The team designed a simple, no-nonsense site: no fancy graphics, just a focus on quickly guiding the consumer to the right computer matched with the most suitable processor. Accordingly, the navigation moves the visitor along a linear “Explore, Test Drive, and Shop” journey.

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The clean design reflects a deliberate strategy on the part of Intel and Razorfish, Malia said. “We wanted to create an experience a consumer would not expect from a high-tech company, free of detailed specs and technology jargon,” she said. “We also wanted to demystify the processor.”

The site also employs an interesting approach familiar to web designers, the liquid layout. The size of the site retracts and expands automatically to fit the size of your computer screen, using a Flash application that Razorfish designed for Intel.

The Intel Core Processor Experience site is a natural extension of the Intel/Razorfish relationship. “Intel repeatedly asks Razorfish how we can apply innovation to redefine Intel’s role with consumers, and our team thrives in an innovation-focused environment,” Malia added.

I think the Intel Core Processor Experience site is a good example of building a brand through an experience as opposed to a message. And yet the experience need not be chock full of bells and whistles. So far early data show lots of repeat visits and dwell time especially on important areas of the site, like the shopping functionality.

If you have any questions about the work, let me know. Your comments are welcomed.

Please support charity: water

Being able to enjoy a glass of clean, safe water is probably something you take for granted, like the sun rising every day.  And yet a billion people in the world lack access to safe water. My employer Razorfish just helped nonprofit charity: water launch a campaign to address this problem. I hope you will take a moment to help.

Here’s the pitch: charity: water is dedicated to bringing safe water to developing nations. All donations to charity: water go directly to projects like the creation of deep wells and biosand filters. And charity: water proves every project built by using photos, content, and GPS coordinates via Google Maps. So far charity: water has launched nearly 3,000 such projects saving nearly 1.3 million people. The newest charity: water undertaking, September, seeks to raise funds to build wells in the Central African Republic, where more than one third of the nation’s 4.3 million people lack access to clean water, causing a host of life-threatening problems ranging from dehydration to disease resulting from unsanitary conditions. So how can you help? For starters:

Of course I invite you to explore the charity: water website — truly a cutting edge use of digital to raise awareness for a charity, including a stunning high-definition video that features a snapshot of the Bayaka people in the Central African Republic to show you the human impact of your effort.

Razorfish pro bono support for the September campaign includes helping to conceive the social media strategy, driving the search marketing strategy, and working with publishers to raise ad impressions.

I hope you will help.

How to surprise and delight a customer

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Here’s a surprise: a customer fulfillment notice that’s actually fun to read. After ordering a from CD Baby a copy of Ronee Blakley Live at the Mint, I expected to receive a perfunctory confirmation of my purchase shipment. Instead here’s what I found in my email in-box:

“Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow. A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing. Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy. We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved ‘Bon Voyage!’ to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day. We hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. In commemoration, we have placed your picture on our wall as ‘Customer of the Year.’ We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Even the “From” field of the email caught my eye: “CD Baby Loves You,” which automatically made me want to open the email. And once I did, the note had me at hello. I read every word, finding myself caught up in a small moment of entertainment amid a busy day.

Every customer touch point is an opportunity to surprise and delight. When has a company surprised and delighted you lately? I’d love to hear about your CD Baby moment.