Spiral Marketing: The More You Know, The More You Can Know

February 8, 2009

Publicis pulls funding for The Honeyshed: Another Example Of Form Ignoring Function

Publicis Group, the enormous ad agency, pulled financial backing from The Honeyshed (http://tinyurl.com/yozdwh).  The Honeyshed, I hate to say, is nothing more than an online, high end version of the QVC, for the under-35 crowd.  Ultra-chic presenters talking about merchandise – clever bits, hip, flash with a lot of flair, this property has grown to 20,000 unique visitors / day.  So what’s the problem?  The simple truth of the internet: “visits” does not equal “dollars.”  Publicis, given the current economic climate, was simply not willing to continue to invest in a venue that wasn’t making enough money.

Now, the pundits are already talking about why this seemingly brilliant property is not meeting its lofty expectations – Ad Age, the source of the story I read, blames user experience and cart strategy.  I think Ad Age got it right, but only unintentionally.  In this internet age, we continue to misunderstand the medium, and use tired old metaphors that exist and perhaps thrive in a completely different medium, targeting a completely different audience, and try to apply them to online behavior, and inexplicably, we are surprised at the lack of results.

What is The Honeyshed?  “Virtual Shopping Mall?” “QVC for the under-35 crowd?”  It tries to be both, and fails at both.  Why?

The metaphor of the shopping mall has not, and still does not, apply to the internet: it did not in 1995 when these sites started appearing, and nothing has changed.  The fundamental problem is that the metaphor of the “shopping mall” – and we can only speak in metaphorical terms, given the medium.  As I’ve said before, shopping malls came into existence to solve a physical space problem: as people moved from the cities to the suburbs, with the expansion of area, the natural concentration of shopping in the cities disappeared.  Instead of walking a few blocks to complete your shopping, you would now spend half your day driving.  To solve this physical space problem, developers began concentrating shops into malls – drive to the mall, get all of your shopping done in a single place.

Shopping on the internet doesn’t present the same physical space problem – looking for a pair of boots is as easy as typing the search term into your browser – the search engine aggregates the results for you, and can even provide a price comparison when you find the ones you like.  So what advantage does a “virtual shopping mall” provide: none.

The more unexpected twist in this model is the ultra-chic spin on QVC.  The Honeyweb professes to “Reinvent Shopping For The Digital Generation,” with scantily clad women, comic burglars, presumed luminaries of the under-35 culture, all promoting products.  The videos are at times interesting, and they aren’t badly done.  And yet, in the final analysis a medium that worked for middle-aged women, and tried to make it relevent to under-35s – talk about misunderstanding your audience.  Of course, the rise of YouTube and Flickr probably led someone to the mistaken conclusion that these commercial messages, done in a clever way, would attract an audience.  Given that the site was attracting 20,000 visitors a day, they may have succeeded to a degree in attracting eyes to their content (although YouTube, for example, reports over 6 million visitors a day, or over 250,000 an hour); but attracting eyes to content is not “reinventing shopping.”

One might also argue that the real play for the Honeyshed is brand and product marketing – after all, studies have shown that online stores generate $3 to $4 spent offline for every dollar spent online.  This might be a legitimate play for this site – certainly, it would explain the Publicis involvement.  But providing a new advertising channel is not “reinventing shopping.”

The Honeyshed is not a bad site, and I think it may attract funding to continue operations even though Publicis has pulled out.  The real message of The Honeyshed story, though, is a recurring message for all of us attempting to use this new medium for influencing consumer purchasing.  That message is that we cannot look around our physical world, and attempt to apply metaphors from the physical world to the internet.  A website is not a shopping mall: the internet can be legitimately thought of as the largest shopping mall in the world, I suppose, but that does not translate to individual websites aggregating the shopping preferences for a large group of consumers into a single site – the closest you will get on the internet are comparison pricing services, an advertising play.  Nor is the internet a billboard, or even a home shopping channel.

We have to look not at the physical world for “metaphors” of business models that we want to replicate online.  We instead have to seek to understand our audience, and what drives their interactions on the internet, and then build strategies and properties that meet the needs of these interactions.  Form truly does follow function – I think the real message of The Honeyshed is that it misunderstands its audience, it misunderstands its function, and ulimately it misunderstands its own goal of “Reinventing Shopping For The Digital Generation.’  It may be great form, but it serves no clear function . . .



February 4, 2009

Wisconsin Cheese Cupid – Very Nice Effort, But . . .

I came across the Wisconsin Cheese Cupid site, produced by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (So what? I’m a cheesehead – that’s what!).  How did I come to find this site?  I did the unthinkable for me – I clicked through on a Facebook ad.  Studies show that social network display ad click-throughs are only 40% of the click-through rates seen across the broader internet – 10 in 10,000 impressions click-through for the broader internet; only 4 in 10,000 for social networking sites.

Even more remarkable is that I noticed this display ad – I don’t generally buy into the Social Network as Billboard metaphor any more than I buy into the SEO / SEM hammers out there trying to prove that their nail is the Internet as Yellow Pages metaphor.  But this ad worked because it is focused on such a targeted niche, with such a seductive message – I caught that phrase out of the corner of my eye – “Wisconsin Cheese Cupid” – and it spoke to my absolute love of cheese.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I clicked through, and they didn’t talk about cheese – they talked about enjoying cheese with a good bottle of wine or a great beer (Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board – WMMB – does NOT condone or endorse drinking or the promotion of alcoholic beverages).  The flash-based site is very elegant, it ties together nicely, and it isn’t annoying or overly pleased with itself as so many flash-based sites are.  And it talks about enjoying cheese in the broader context of a nice relaxing evening after a hard day of work or play . . .

But I’m not a web designer (or food critic, for that matter), and that is not the topic of this blog; our topic is Social Marketing, and this is where WMMB really missed a golden opportunity.  They got me!  Nobody gets me to look, much less click-through: my perceptual filters and resistance to marketing “noise” is as developed as anyone else’s out there.  But once they got me on the hook, they couldn’t get me to do something that I really wanted to do: share this great site with my friends – many cheeseheads among them.  Why?  Simple – they never gave me the opportunity.  They could have had an easy 20 of my friends, by having gotten me – the holy grail of social marketing – but for one small problem: I had no way of easily referring my friends to this great site; and the kicker is I really looked for that opportunity.  I thought about emailing, but I guess I am drinking the social network kool-aid, and I just couldn’t be bothered to create an email and type in 20 email addresses.  Perhaps I will remember tomorrow – more likely I won’t.

So at the end of the day, while WMMB did a very creative, elegant site that was exactly what I expected and wanted it to be, they didn’t provide me an opportunity to spread the news.  That’s the key to social marketing – not getting the new eyes-on strictly from mass market acquisition, but getting the follow-on looks from a good product introduced through a trusted referral from a friend.

There is clearly a lot of talent with this group, and they truly understand their product and their mission, so I don’t think they are done yet.  I look forward to the day when I can log into my Facebook account, get a new cheese fondue recipe, or just find that perfect accent to a nice nut brown ale at the end of a long day – I think they’ll get there.

By the way – for those of you salivating at the thought of a nice gruyere with a brown . . . http://tinyurl.com/5jfmsu

You’re quite welcome . . .

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