Love Me? Message Me

Sharing Valentine’s Day love means swapping mobile messages sprinkled with emoji and stickers. And brands want a piece of that action.

As part of a Valentine’s Day campaign targeting mobile users, Dunkin’ Donuts features a special emoji keyboard that makes it possible for users to add emoji to their texts. Dunkin’ Donuts has also created a virtual Valentine’s Day card builder that turns iPhones iMessages into more personalized messages adorned with Dunkin’ Donuts branded stickers.

But Dunkin’ Donuts is not the only brand vying for space in your messaging app on Valentine’s Day. To wit:

  • Michael Kors launched an emoji keyboard that works with Android and Apple devices to share special Valentine’s Day emoji and GIFs such as kissing lips and conversation hearts.
  • Moët created a branded emoji keyboard, too, which includes lips, hearts, and mini-animated Moët & Chandon bottles with popping corks.

  • Hallmark, through Hallmark eCards, has made available delightfully kitschy set of stickers featuring Fabio, the heartthrob whose chiseled features and windswept hair made him a popular model for romance novels years ago. The free stickers promote the Hallmarke eCard app.

  • As part of a broader Valentine’s Day experience, Facebook has embedded its Messenger app with a Valentine’s Day card builder that functions like the Dunkin’ Donut virtual Valentine’s Day card. By tapping on a heart shaped icon in their Facebook Messenger app, users can build cards with special wallpaper, stickers, and personal greetings.

Why would brands want to latch on to mobile messaging to celebrate Valentine’s Day of all special events? After all, we don’t normally associate love and passion with our mobile phones. In fact, Valentine’s Day branded messaging makes perfect sense. Valentine’s Day is an emotional day, and chances are that most couples are spending a good portion of the day apart. Mobile messaging is a personal experience. By their nature, emoji, wallpaper, and stickers inject emotion into a personal message — and many times a day.

And the demand for mobile messaging keeps growing:

  • The amount of time adults in the U.S. spend on mobile messaging apps will increase from five minutes a day in 2016 to nine minutes per day in 2017 and 14 minutes per day in 2018, according to eMarketer.
  • According to Deloitte, the first thing people do when they pick up their smart phones in the morning is send messages (overtaking email, the most popular answer a few years ago).

No wonder that brands have developed hundreds of special emoji keyboards, according to Vivian Rosenthal, the founder of Snaps, a mobile messaging platform connecting brands to millennials.

Meanwhile, according to the National Retail Federation, only 47 percent of consumers plan to buy Valentine’s Day cards, down from 63 percent 10 years ago. Businesses such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Hallmark are banking on the likelihood that mobile messaging is a substitute for traditional cards.

Stickers, emoji, and other visual effects constitute a natural way for brands to embed themselves into personal messages without intruding. The key is to create context-aware content. When brands share the right content for the right moment and platform, consumers don’t feel interrupted because the content feels relevant. Branded content only feels like an advertisement when it lacks relevance.

As Vivian Rosenthal wrote in Forbes, “Content is king in messaging. Like television, print, web and social before it, messaging needs good creative, meaning-rich visuals that convey emotion. It’s not enough to just have an emoji keyboard or a sticker pack in iMessage, your content has to have personality that lets users express themselves. Funny, sexy, cute, aspirational or product driven emojis all work but it all depends on the values and voice of your brand.”

Next year, we’ll be ordering flowers, champagne, and candy in our instant messaging apps to go along with the virtual cards.

Happy Valentine’s Day. 😍💘

Snapchat and Vine: The Disruptor and Disrupted


Remember when Vine was cool and Snapchat was dirty? How quickly their fortunes have changed. Vine, once the darling of visual storytellers, is losing brands and attention, sinking in popularity on the app store. Meantime, Snapchat has overcome its reputation as a fringe app run by a badly behaving frat boy. Adweek recently named Snapchat the hottest digital brand of the year for 2015 while Vine was making headlines for losing market share. Their changing fortunes demonstrate how easily the disruptors can become the disrupted. But the story ain’t over yet.

Vine: The Disrupted

Vine came along at the right time. The app was officially launched in January 2013 amid the rise of video storytelling. Brands, always looking for fresh content sharing platforms, latched on to Vine as a fresh alternative to YouTube. Vine’s format for sharing 6-second video stories seemed like a natural fit for a multi-tasking world with a shrinking attention span — and, crucially, Vine was (and remains) an easy-to-use mobile-first app at a time of rapid mobile adoption. Its user base grew rapidly, and Vine was hailed as a YouTube disruptor. Brands eager to extend their presence into mobile content, began adopting the app and bringing with them more users. By fall of 2013, Dunkin’ Donuts and Trident Gum were launching the first-ever TV spots using Vine.

But even as Vine was ascending, a multitude of forces were converging to disrupt Vine’s success. Just six months after Vine launched, Instagram rolled out its own video feature, with superior editing capabilities, Facebook would also beef up its video-sharing capability. Snapchat, which had existed longer, added more functions, exploded in popularity, and, in 2014, introduced advertising (while Vine did not). Facebook could wield its scale and targeted advertising effectively against Vine, and Snapchat had coolness in its favor. Meantime, YouTube kept evolving as a premier source of online entertainment for brands and YouTube stars such as PewDiePie.

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Email and Referral Marketing: The Workhorse and Dark Horse for Customer Acquisition


Digital long ago established itself as a channel for brand building and direct marketing. But what are the most popular digital tools for acquiring customers? According to my newly published report for Gigaom Research, the unsexy tactic of email marketing is a digital workhorse, popular for awareness building, and customer acquisition, conversion, and retention. And referral marketing, not used as widely as other tactics, provides an especially strong payoff for its practitioners. My report suggests to marketers that acquiring customers in the digital era is like creating a mosaic: to achieve a beautiful outcome, companies need to apply the right blend of tactics. For instance, brands should consider using social media and referral marketing to complement lists created for email campaigns.

The report, Workhorses and Dark Horses: Digital Tactics for Customer Acquisition, is based on a Gigaom survey of 300 U.S. digital marketers. We wanted to understand how they are using digital marketing tactics across the marketing funnel, spanning awareness, customer acquisition, conversion, and retention. Our survey affirms that digital marketing is being used consistently across the entire customer experience.

Marketers told us that social media, already well known as an awareness-building tool, is also particularly useful for customer retention. Content marketing is especially useful for awareness and retention. And email is consistently used across the entire marketing funnel.

Digital Marketing Spend Set to Increase

Here are the key findings of our survey:

  • Nearly 60 percent of companies plan to increase their digital marketing spend in 2014.
  • Email marketing is the digital workhorse, deemed the most effective (relative to other digital tactics) for building awareness, acquisition, retention, and conversion. In fact, 56 percent of respondents identified email as being the most effective at retention, several points ahead of the second-most-effective tactic.
  • Social spending is set to increase, but we discern some buying on faith with social. More marketers plan to spend more on social media marketing than any other digital tactic. But when we asked marketers to describe their perceptions of social media marketing, more marketers agreed with the statement “It is difficult to prove ROI for social media marketing” than with any other statement.
  • Referral marketing is a digital marketing dark horse. Only 39 percent of marketers use it regularly, but 43 percent of those who do use it acquire more than 35 percent of their new customers with it. These numbers are double the percentage of marketers who report such acquisition rates using email. Brands that invest in referral can gain a competitive advantage over those investing elsewhere.

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How a Brand Shares Its Culture through Visual Storytelling

Floating Opera

A journalist recently asked me whether all brands should be on Pinterest. My reply: brands need visual storytelling strategies — which may indeed involve a presence on Pinterest. I recently created for agency iCrossing a visual storytelling strategy that focuses on bringing to life iCrossing’s corporate culture. You may find a presentation about that strategy on SlideShare:

Visual storytelling has transformed how iCrossing creates brand love with its clients, influencers, and its own people. Visual stories have helped iCrossing improve its reach, visibility, and engagement. What’s your visual storytelling strategy?

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How Dunkin’ Donuts keeps its customers happy


This post comes to you live from the second annual Forrester Research Customer Experience Forum 2010 at the Grand Hyatt in New York. The theme of event is creating breakthrough customer experiences. John Costello, chief global customer and marketing officer for Dunkin’ Brands, discusses how Dunkin’ Brands understands customer needs and develops a 360-degree approach to meeting those needs.

John oversees the marketing and brand efforts for Dunkin’ Donuts as well as Baskin Robbins, but the focus of his forum talk is Dunkin’ Donuts.

Essentially the Dunkin’ brand has remained consistent with what it stood for when the company was founded 60 years ago: coffee and donuts. The challenge: how do you keep a 60-year-old icon relevant to customers today? How do you honor your heritage while meeting consumers’ evolving needs, especially in a world where power has shifted to the consumer?

To Dunkin’, everything the customer touches defines the brand — events, social media, the web, advertising, signage, the in-store environment, the Dunkin’ community presence, and, of course, the product itself. Accepting the reality that every customer touch point defines the Dunkin’ brand is what drives the company’s approach to being customer-centric. The company follows six specific principles to satisfying its customers and keeping its brand relevant:

1. Make sure you understand who your best customers are. The Dunkin’ customer is a “regular person,” which is more of a state of mind than a demographic. Interestingly, Dunkin’ understands that its most loyal customers “cheat on Dunkin'” — they buy coffee elsewhere. Dunkin’ realizes that even with its superfans, the company always has room to grow and cannot afford to take them for granted. Its superfans, in his words, “cruise the world,” and if Dunkin’ is not obsessed about preserving their loyalty, they’ll lose them. So Dunkin’ does things like making it easy for repeat customers to easily auto-charge their Dunkin’ cards

2. Differentiate or disappear. Concentrate on what makes the Dunkin’ brand unique. If a long-lost cousin visited your company and asked, “Why should I choose your brand?” you had better be able to answer that question in one or two easy sentences. Dunkin’ is all about “getting you ready in the morning and keeping you running all day.” Dunkin’ Donuts not the place to hang out and surf the internet but rather a place to get fueled for the day and to return for a  quick refuel. Dunkin’ also realizes that its brand personality is important — customers like its down-to-earth, unpretentious personality. In essence, Dunkin’ is how the everyday folks who keep America running get fueled everyday. Hence, the Dunkin’ tagline, “America runs on Dunkin'” and Dunkin’s cheeky TV spots that poke fun at highfalutin-sounding coffee with esoteric names available at more upscale shops.

3. Embrace the 360-degree touchpoints. Look at every aspect of the customer experience and reinforce the most desirable ones everywhere. Dunkin’ is all about “fast, friendly, and helpful.” The company invites customer feedback on their in-store transaction receipts (customers are motivated to respond with the promise of a free donut). Dunkin’ takes that feedback to improve, with a focus on the in-store experience. Why? Because customers don’t interact with a store; they interact with store managers and their staff at the individual store level. Dunkin’ teams in-store act as the chief Dunkin’ brand ambassadors, even (or perhaps especially) with the drive-through experience, where Dunkin’ really needs to deliver on its promise of getting everyday folk fueled fast.

John also stresses that providing a 360-degree experience, at its core, is about offering products customers want — both the reliable products like glazed donuts and limited edition products. Of course Dunkin’ offers its core product of donuts, but the company has diversified its fare to include more breakfast options and beverages like the Dunkin’ Coolatta or triple chocolate muffins. Importantly, Dunkin’ is not abandoning its focus on delicious and indulgent foods like limited edition goodies for chocolate lovers during Chocolate Lovers month.

John also discusses how establishing a two-way dialogue with customers via social media has been central to a 360-degree approach to being customer-centric. Dunkin’ has used social media channels such as Facebook to Twitter as a customer feedback mechanism. And now Dunkin’ has gotten its customers involved in product creation. Through a social media contest, Dunkin’ Donuts got customers involved in designing a new bananas foster donut flavor that the company will soon produce

4. Think long term. Invest in your brand, not just your sales. It takes a long time to build a great brand. Doing so means investing into a consumer insights team that looks at customer needs over the long run. And relying on the customer feedback (as stated previously) to improve the guest experience.

5. Don’t just hire good people — hire people who are better than yourself. People who work for you and with you can do a lot more than you can do yourself. Assemble great teams who will delight the customer.

6. Have fun. Take the business seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously.

Interestingly, John concludes his talk by discussing how Dunkin’ is expanding across Asia, including Korea, where the brand is established already. So far the branding in Korea is more playful than in the States. An open question: as Dunkin’ goes global, what are the implications for the “America runs on Dunkin'” branding?