"What's Goin' On?" Fan-Gated Promotions and the Lie of Facebook Research

Sorry about the brief hiatus. Business development trip got in the way. 

Maybe it's because I'm listening to Marvin Gaye's best album ever, but I'm finding myself questioning what's going on in the advertising industry more today than usual. 

There's a very strange hypocrisy at play regarding social media that seems to be going unnoticed and I'm ready to blow the whistle on it. When we (we being marketers) want to help one of our brands add friends to their Facebook page we will invent all kinds of manipulative tactics such as:

  • Become a friend to enter to win a car
  • Become a friend and you can get free products
  • Become a friend for free music downloads
  • And the list goes on

We call it fan-gated promotions and some consider it the gold standard of fan acquisition. We often report our Facebook media results based on "cost of fan acquisition." This means that the vast majority of fans become fans only to get something free. It doesn't represent their true passion and there's not really anything wrong with that.

But here comes the hypocrisy.

We conduct research using tools that report what other pages our Facebook fans have become frinds of, as a way to understand what they care about and what will resonate with them.

For example, lets say an agency is working with a a shoe brand. Through research they find that the brand's fans are often fans of Coke. They assume it would be a great idea to run a promotion featuring Coke as a partner. This may be true. It may also be true that Coke just offered a trip to the Oscars and gained 50,000 fans who only wanted a chance to win something. The data may not reflect the insight about motivations they think it does.

And another thing

I was recently sitting in on a demo of a brand new social media research tool that created psychographics based on what Facebook users would fan. Those who had become of a fan of a significant number of brand pages were considered "brand conscious."  They might actually be someone who is not at all brand conscious but someone who likes contests, or uses coupons, or is a bargain hunter. 

Here's my point

Facebook is great. But it is not the answer to every question. It can help us understand the language and tone of the consumer. However, we still have to do the hard work of talking to consumers and conducting research to get the understanding we need to make smart marketing decisions. The online revolution has made this easier and faster to do, so there's no reason not to.

Now, back to Marvin, "Mother, mother, there's too many of you crying. Bother, brother..."

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The Power of Short-Term Goals

I've been on somewhat of a self improvement kick lately. Well, lately might be an understatement. Perhaps, I've been on a self improvement kick for the past few decades, would be more accurate. However, I've found that, for me, the key is short-term goals. By short term I mean a day or two up to no more than a week.


I've been able to lose just about 40 lbs., but I rarely think about my ultimate goal. I think about where I want to be by Friday. I've only missed two of my short term goals. This is because it doesn't seem overwhelming to think about a pound or two, where as losing tens of pounds seems unimaginable. 


I've set a goal of listening to the top 25 jazz albums of all time. If I had the goal of "getting into jazz" I would have failed. Listening to an album or two a week, who can't do that? As a result, I find myself listening to Mingus or Miles quite often. 


I've decided I want to watch the 85 movies that Martin Scorcesse says every film buff should watch. So, when I'm walking on my treadmill, I watch half of a movie. Interestingly, this makes me anxious to get back to the treadmill to watch more. 

There are other lists I'm working on, but I think you get the point. This may seem like an odd topic for a marketing blog but I'm saying all this because there's something important here that helps with establishing strategies. Here are some suggestions that might help with your next planning session:

  1. Goals must be measurable: If you can't measure it, chances are you can't manage it. Every discussion of a marketing goal should not end till you answer the question, "...and how will we measure success?"
  2. Goals must be immediate: Make sure you know where you want to be in the next few weeks. The power of interim goals can't be undervalued.
  3. Goals must be realistic: Nothing is more frustrating than ridiculous goals that simply can't be accomplished. I've heard leaders say, "Well, this will stretch us," or "Shoot for the sky, hit the fence, shoot for the fence, hit the ground." I'm sorry, but that's garbage. The power of any kind of goal, including marketing goals, is to celebrate the wins. By celebrating you generate a positive addiction to success.
  4. Goal must be cohesive: Goals must be consistent with your long term business challenge. Every goal must be filtered through the lens of this question, "What is the company trying to accomplish?"

These principles can be applied to any goal setting effort but I believe keeping these things in mind will vastly improve your strategic planning. 

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Lean Research and Agile Insights

For the last two weeks I've been working through a research product offering the agency has been presenting to clients. I've hit upon some interesting ideas. One in particular has captured my thinking. It's the idea of stripping research down to it's bare essentials and thereby allowing us to generate a constant flow of insights. More and more, it seems, waiting months or even weeks to get an understanding of the consumer, is just too long.

I'm currently reading Lean Startups which is applying Lean Manufacturing priciples and Agile Development concepts to launch a new venture. The area that has not been revolutionized by such thinking is research. There are three key principles that have to find there way into our insight process:

  1. Iterative research: meaning a move away from project-based research to waves of research hitting our desks on a continuous basis.
  2. Viral insights: this means research cannot land in a desk drawer and stay there. There must be a dashboard where all parties can access aggregated quantitative and qualitative research.
  3. Rapid execution: meaning each iteration or research scrum has to be completed in less than a month, preferably two weeks. 

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Launching Ventures

Brands are like living organisms. They grow, change and sometimes take you in interesting and unexpected directions. For example take the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company which began it's life as a company that extracted stone from quarries for use in grinding wheels. Of course, few of you would be unaware that it became 3M, known for products such as Post It Notes and Scotch Tape. 

Or think about IKEA, the flat-pack furniture company. In the last year they have unveiled pre-fab homes, pop-up airport lounges, cardboard cameras and now, beer. The first three in that list make sense; The pre-fab homes, that's an extension of the brand, they are all about the home. The pop-up airport lounges; that's a great way to give people with time on their hands the chance to "test drive" some of their products. The cardboard cameras; they were more of a promotional item than a product. But that last one, the beer, that's interesting. Yes, they sell food in their stores, but it still seems like a bit of an outlier. All these products represent their desire to constantly question, grow and innovate.

This made me wonder, when does the brand transcend what it does? In other words, when should you branch out into new areas of growth. I have seen, again and again, agencies where it seems as if the leadership has become bored with being an agency. They begin to focus on efforts far from their core business. Here's the questions I ask myself when thinking about ventures our agency might launch:


  1. Is there a process we are already executing for a client that could be productized?
  2. Is the idea I'm considering consistent with the agency's brand? In our case, since our agency is named Curiosity, does it represent the brand equity of "always questioning, always seeking, always wondering."
  3. Can we launch it with our infrastructure and current staffing? While ultimately a venture may be spun off to its own business, it must begin within an agency environment.
  4. Can I clearly define a problem the venture solves?
  5. Is it scalable? We analyze this by projecting the cost structure based on modest success. For example, what happens to the profit margin when we have 5 customers? 10 customers? 100 customers? 1,000 customers.


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