Digital footprints

This feature first appeared in the September 2011 issue of Marketing magazine.


They say if you really want to get to know a person, you need to walk a mile in their shoes. Matt Granfield talks to some of Australia’s savviest digital marketers and finds out how they’re tracking the digital footprints of the nation and then using that information to lead consumers to the checkout.

You’re being watched. Every move you make is being tracked.

Keep your head down. Stay calm.

Whatever you do, don’t look behind you. That’s not where they are. They’re in front. In the screen. In the computer. They know everything. Everything.

Sit down. Go to Log in. There it is. Everything you’ve ever searched for. How to yodel – the number to order a pizza – the answer to the pub trivia question you were asked in June 2006 (the capital of Turkmenistan is Ashgabat, in case you’ve forgotten). Google hasn’t forgotten.

And that’s just one website. There are thousands, perhaps millions more. You have been watched since the moment you first went online. The news knows what news you like. Facebook knows who your friends are. Your bank knows when you last checked your balance. Your favourite charity knows precisely what time you read your email. You will be watched tomorrow. If you’re on a computer, or a mobile device, you are being watched right now. Don’t worry though. They’re watching you for your own good.

They’re watching you, so they can help you.

Does it sound creepy? You’d want to hope not, because you’ve probably done a bit of watching yourself.

You’re a marketer. You use Google Analytics. You know where your visitors are from. You know how long they stay. You know what keywords they use to find your site and you know which pages they visit. Whether you realise it or not, you’ve been placing cookies on their computer so you know when they come back. It’s all good though, cookies are cute. Cookies never hurt anybody.

Actually, that’s a lie. Maureen Govern was hurt by cookies… 650,000 of them, in fact. Govern was the chief technology officer at AOL in 2006 and she was in charge when the company publicly released the search history of 650,000 users for ‘research’ purposes. The users were identified only by a number, but The New York Times did some snooping and discovered that it was fairly easy to connect a person’s search history to a person. They released some names, and let the world know there were people out there searching for ‘Beauty and the Beast Disney porn’, among other more sordid queries. Govern resigned.

Your search history may be vanilla by comparison, but that doesn’t make your digital footprints any less interesting to marketers. In fact, as the world’s information shifts into a digital cloud, smart marketers are getting more and more sophisticated in the measurements they take – if you can learn to read the cloud properly, you’ll know when it’s about to rain money – and the technology is getting a lot more sophisticated than Google Analytics.


The shift from website analytics to customer intelligence

While Google’s website visitor analysis program (or its earlier forefathers) was the first stepping stone on a path to online enlightenment for many marketers, companies like Experian have made multimillion-dollar businesses out of showing companies a lot more than just the IP address of a user. In fact, online customer behaviour is now starting to drive innovation in areas as diverse as product development, supply chain management and purchasing trends.

Matt Glasner, general manager of Experian Marketing Services, explains how the world has changed. “Australian consumers are spending more and more time in the online space. The increase in digital media usage has subsequently increased the collection and analysis of data, which was very difficult in an analogue world,” he says.

“Not only are organisations now capturing customer data from online activity, they’re also analysing and drawing insights from the activity. The data that this consumer activity provides can drive innovation through the detailed measurement of customer and market data that is more readily available in a digital world.

“Businesses can take this data and use it for not only product development, but also marketing material. For example, (budget electronics retailer) Kogan recently launched above the line ads based on recent real-time social media feedback, so they are taking the sentiment of their existing customers online and replicating this to their target audiences on a larger scale above the line.

“When businesses harness the power of these technologies and interact directly with consumers online, they provide a faster, more relevant and responsive way of engaging with existing and potential customers.”

And that engagement gets a whole lot more profitable once you can lead it down a sales funnel in an online shopping environment.

Paul Downs is the co-founder and director of Hitworks, an ecommerce consultancy that helps retailers make the most of their online stores. A former CIO (chief information officer) of City Beach, he decided to start Hitworks when he realised just how little Australian retailers knew about what was actually possible when they started tapping into the data available online.

“One of the biggest opportunities online is in the wealth of data you can capture through the transactions your customers are making,” says Downs.

“The data allows you to get a much better understanding of what your customers’ buying patterns are, and you can start a dialogue with them and you’re then able to tune promotions to what they’re looking for. Through continual harvesting of information on their buying patterns, and by talking to them, you can start to do that. You can get to a level of sophistication where your ecommerce system tailors the products that are presented to the customer when they come to the site. The Utopia is that you end up presenting the right product at the right price to the right person at the time they’re looking for it.

“Amazon is a good example. When I log in to my Amazon account, it recommends me products because it knows what I look at and it knows what I’ve bought. So, rather than me logging in and just cruising around looking for stuff, it says, ‘Hey, you might be interested in this’.”

Downs says smart retailers are doing more with user data than just deciding which products to show people. Smart marketers, he believes, use data to profile their customers in detail and then use that knowledge over time.

“Great retailers in this space understand their customers’ consumption behaviours and are therefore better placed to understand what a certain type of customer will spend in a given cycle, say annually. That then drives the level of discount and offers presented to that customer to drive increased sales.

“My experience with a number of Aussie retailers is that they are a million miles away from the concept of customer intelligence, let alone the execution of it – which means there is a fantastic opportunity for those prepared to embrace what Europe and the US have been doing for some time.

“For example, if you know customer type ‘A’ spends a few thousand dollars with you a year, you’re more likely to give them a 20 percent discount than someone who shops with you once. The software and platforms to do this are available now.”



But it’s not just website visitors who are providing marketers with digital footprints to follow. Tracking technology is now being applied to online advertising, allowing brands to target ads to people who’ve visited their website once they’re long gone.

In 2010, Google launched an innovative ad product called Remarketing, which allows advertisers to show ads to users who’ve previously visited their website as they then go on to browse the web. It works by allowing a company to tag pages of its site that correspond to certain categories it wants to promote. For example, an electronics retailer could add a ‘TV’ tag on all of the pages where it sells televisions and then create an AdWords campaign to show messages to people who’ve visited these pages as they browse TV-related sites across the Google Display Network (publishers who have elected to display Google ads on their web pages).

Google Remarketing product manager Aitan Weinberg says companies have been quick to embrace the technology.

“We rolled out Remarketing one year ago across the Google Display Network, and we think we have a hit on our hands,” he says. “In 2010, the total number of advertisers using Remarketing grew an average of 113 percent every quarter after launch.”

He adds that Google is continuing to develop the product and is beginning to use complex algorithms to mine user data for the best results.

“In the year since launch, we’ve boosted performance and scale with three key enhancements to make Remarketing even more powerful for the largest to the smallest of advertisers. First, we now enable you to show a relevant ad right after a potential customer leaves your site, when our internal analysis shows they’re most likely to click. Second, we’ve improved the algorithm that helps determine, in real time, how much you should pay for each impression in order to maximise the possibility that a user will click on your ad. Finally, the growing reach of the Google Display Network means you can reach your customers on more and more sites across the web.

While Google can’t point to any specific Australian case studies, Weinberg highlights three US firms that have experienced success with the program:

  • the Yankee Candle Company, which used Remarketing to re-engage shoppers and increased conversion rates by 600 percent while cutting cost-per-conversion in half
  • Lenovo, which increased sales by 20 percent and lowered its overall expense-to-revenue ratio by 14 percent in a campaign that included Remarketing and display across multiple networks, and
  •, an online towing parts retailer that saw twice the click-through rate at a 75 percent lower cost-per-click with Remarketing, compared to its typical display advertising campaigns.


Digital footprints in email and B2C communications

While the retail industry is starting to get display advertising runs on the board by utilising smart data, it’s still the one traditionally struggling to get its head around how to communicate directly with consumers without being labelled as spammers.

Lisa Arthur, chief marketing officer of marketing automation software company Aprimo, says that satisfying educated consumers requires that marketers provide the right information, when, where and in what forms these educated consumers want it.

“The blast campaigns of the past produce low response rates, and just a half a percent spam complaint rate will start to get you blocked by major mailbox providers all over the world,” she explains. “As a result, marketers must master new ways to answer critical, long-standing questions about the overall effectiveness of both traditional and new interactive online marketing programs. For example, what level of interest was generated by last week’s special offer? Is the marketing program reaching the desired demographic regions?”

Arthur says that to take full advantage of interactive marketing, B2C marketers need to adopt a holistic approach based on the simplification of processes and the integration of deep customer intelligence.

“Email blasts of the past have been replaced with online marketing that creates a dialogue with consumers, requiring the creation of custom content that can hold the attention of the educated consumer,” she says.

Arthur outlines three key ways a B2C marketing strategy should be using data to achieve maximum results:

  • built-in capabilities for triggered/event-based email marketing to allow marketers to personalise content and introduce rules-driven communications that can be scheduled to meet campaign objectives
  • interactive dialogues that can be triggered from email or landing page responses, as well as web-browsing history on company website properties, and
  • the ability to quickly and flexibly set up m-sites, landing pages, and forms to suit each project.

Arthur says that interactive marketing also requires marketers getting access to the right information – particularly in heavily ‘siloed’ organisations where IT, customer service and marketing all keep different sets of data on who is interacting with the brand.

“Customer data is typically gathered and managed by multiple departments and organisations within each business,” says Arthur. “Many marketing tools limit the amount and type of customer data that can be referenced. B2C businesses must fully leverage deep data drawn from multiple channels from offline connections to email response, form and survey data and company website browsing history. As a result, marketers can create highly focused content for uniquely engaging customer experiences.”

Successful campaigns, she says, should be able to segment users into groups based on the frequency of marketing communications they respond to, send ‘win back’ messages to those recipients who aren’t engaging, use social media to invite opt-in subscription requests from new fans and followers, and create interactive experiences on dedicated landing pages to engage users.

“Clearly, to build trust and loyalty, you can’t spam your customers and their contacts. The era of the educated consumer is here, unleashing revolutionary changes in how B2C marketers must interact with audiences. Nowhere is this new balance of dialogue, education and selling more evident than on the web,” concludes Arthur.

The future of retail

This feature first appeared in the August 2011 issue of Marketing magazine.


If you believe the naysayers, the Australian retail industry is hiding under shadows of doom and gloom, but the reality is that sales are booming, just not in the places we used to look. In this special feature Matt Granfield chats to some of the biggest names in the business and discovers the future of retail might well be clicks not bricks.

People are spending more than they ever have before. Despite the global financial crisis, despite the negative news stories, people are reaching into their wallets and purses and pulling out more money than they used to. People are earning more, Australia’s population is growing and retail spending is rising.

Exactly how much retail spending is rising is a matter of debate. Ask the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) about the economic outlook and they’ll paint you a picture of doom and gloom. Bricks and mortar stores are indeed doing it tough. Last Christmas, retail sales were only 2.1 percent better than they were in 2009, but department store sales actually fell by 0.5 percent. When you consider the cost of everything (the inflation rate) went up by about three percent, that’s not good news.

In its August 2010 ‘Consumer Spending Confidence’ report, the ARA found that only one in four respondents (26 percent) believed the coming 12 months would see better financial times ahead for Australia. The majority (61 percent) were uncertain and believed that there would be good and bad times ahead. One in 10 respondents anticipated bad times ahead for Australia financially. One in five (22 percent) respondents believed that now was a good time to spend, while an equal amount (21 percent) believed it to be a bad time.

At best, it could be argued that the future of retail is uncertain. But that’s only half the story.

The amount of money flowing through the economy is watched carefully by the Reserve Bank of Australia and when it wants a clear picture of what’s really going on, one of the most reliable sources of data is the dollar value of what people are putting on their credit cards. If you look at credit card spending since 2005, the figures are remarkably more upbeat.

In fact, every year, for the last six years, people who walk into shops and pay for things with credit cards have spent nine percent more than they did the year before. The inflation rate is about three percent – so by those figures retail spending, at least on credit cards, is growing at a yearly rate of about six percent.

What’s even more interesting is the fact that the value of online purchases has grown at an average of 15 percent a year in the same period. When you factor in inflation, online spending in Australia is growing at exactly double the rate of traditional retail spending.

In short, and according to the nation’s central bank, “The data on domestic spending show rapid growth in online purchases over recent years.” But we’re not just spending more money in Australia, we’re also spending more overseas, and eBay and Amazon account for a huge chunk of those dollars.

Since 2005, the total number of items delivered through the Australia Post network has increased at an average annual rate of around 10 percent, in contrast to an average annual decline of one percent in the total number of domestic and outbound postage flows. In its February 2011 ‘Statement on Monetary Policy’, the Reserve Bank of Australia was unambiguous about what’s going on, stating, “There has also been a steady increase over a number of years in the number of Google searches for ‘Amazon’ and ‘eBay US’, with the number of such searches increasing significantly in the second half of 2010, as the Australian dollar appreciated against the US dollar.”

Ask the futurists and they’re also clear on where online sales are heading. Forrester Research predicts Australian online retail sales will more than double from $16.9 billion in 2009 to $33.3 billion in 2015. Senior analyst Steven Noble cites consumer demand, increased supply and better technology as contributing factors.

“At its core, the development of online retail in Australia requires two factors: increasing consumer demand and retailers that are increasingly able to supply. Australia has both,” says Noble.

“The Federal Government plans to make gigabit broadband available to 93 percent of households, up from almost none in December 2009. And even without this investment, Australian consumers have signalled their willingness to shop online.”

PayPal, which in 2010 processed $92 billion worth of payments (18 percent of global ecommerce) – certainly wouldn’t disagree.

PayPal Australia’s managing director, Frerk-Malte Feller, reckons that getting online isn’t just something retailers should get around to eventually; it’s something they need to do quick smart or they simply won’t be competitive.

“Over eight million Australian consumers now use the internet to make purchases and this, coupled with global consumers, makes the online marketplace a very exciting space to operate in,” he says.

“Operating online is no longer an option for Australian retailers and service providers, but an absolute necessity to gain the momentum they need to stay competitive in today’s changing consumer landscape.”

The times, if you hadn’t already noticed, are a changin’.


Who are the biggest online retailers in Australia?

So, which organisations are leading the charge into the bright new digital landscape? You’d think the household names in the traditional retail sector like Myer, David Jones and Harvey Norman would be at the forefront, right? Wrong.

In fact, of the top 15 most popular shopping websites in Australia, only one – Apple – has a physical retail presence. The rest are specialist online stores ranging from the massive (eBay and Amazon) to the relatively unheard of, like, which sells handmade and vintage items to hipsters and has a higher visitor share than the Apple store.

Surprisingly, the biggest players in the Australian retail sector are all relative newcomers to the ecommerce game. In 2008, Gerry Harvey famously said that selling online was “a complete waste of time” and it’s taken until 2011 for the Harvey Norman Group to enter the space with a ‘one deal a day’ site called ‘Harvey Norman Big Buys’ ( and plans for a full online store any moment now.

David Jones set up an online store in 2000, but closed it when the dotcom boom crashed. It only came back online late in 2010 with a web-based version of its stock, although there are plenty of notable absences – you can’t buy an iPod or a suit online for example.

Without doubt the most interesting traditional newcomer to the ecommerce world has been Myer, which launched an offshore online store called in March. The site is based in China and customers making purchases from avoid paying GST, because it’s not an Australian business.

The site carries only a very limited amount of stock and cynics have accused Myer of using the site to make a point – that if the government doesn’t start charging GST on overseas goods and services bought online, then retailers will have no choice but to set up offshore businesses and there will be a decline in GST revenue for the coffers. Others have said Myer’s move is a sign of things to come – that the smartest way for retailers to compete in Australia will be to stop importing goods from overseas and putting them on shelves, when they could just be shipping products straight from warehouses in China.

Paul Downs, a former chief information officer of City Beach and now head of Hitworks, an ecommerce consultancy, says Myer’s move is a sign of things to come and that, even though the store lacks features, the concept is on the right track.

“ is a good idea, really badly executed. It’s not an easy site to shop on, it’s not optimised to increase the likelihood of someone buying something from a usability point of view,” says Downs. “But the concept of operating outside of Australia and shipping directly in is a great idea. I think it’s the future. Not just for Australian retailers, but for all retailers. If it’s all made in China, why not just make it, warehouse it somewhere as close as possible to the manufacturing plant to save on transport costs and then dispatch it to the customer from China? Myer doing that clearly makes a lot of sense.”

Research from the Australian Centre for Retail Studies (ACRS) indicates supply chain costs aren’t the only reason local retailers have to keep an eye on foreign shores. ACRS research fellow Sean Sands says research conducted in conjunction with Google and customer communications agency Salmat suggests that UK department stores pose the biggest threat to Australian retailers, followed closely by US retailers.

“Overseas retailers are definitely on the attack,” says Sands. “About 43 percent of local sales online are going offshore. My gut feeling is the penetration rate will be increasing in the next few years. They’ve got the stocks, the brands and the distribution systems in place.”

Sands says that, while Australia is a relatively small market, brands consider it lucrative, given the strength of the Australian dollar and cultural similarities to UK and US consumers, and that the big players in the Australian retail sector need to keep up. “It’s interesting because the innovation has been coming from the smaller players and the bigger guys have been lagging,” he says.


What’s working?

Which raises the question: if the big players are lagging behind in the ecommerce game, what then are the leaders doing so differently?

The answer comes down to four things – marketing, products, pricing and online customer experience.

eBay is in a class of its own, of course. The site has been around since 1995 and is so dominant it has few real competitors, at least in Australia and the US. You can buy almost anything you want on eBay and people make a living retailing in eBay stores. eBay has a 21.86 percent share of the shopping and classifieds category. Its marketing strategy covers every channel. It is a marketplace unto itself. But it’s the products and prices on eBay that give the site such an advantage – the auction model means they have more stuff cheaper than anyone else. There’s simply no point in competing with eBay in Australia. too is proof that when one player is so dominant, competing is almost impossible. Borders and Angus and Robertson went bust in Australia this year because people weren’t buying enough books from them – meanwhile Amazon’s revenues continue to climb. In the US, where is a publicly listed company, the website, which began as a bookstore and now stocks virtually anything you can buy in a department store, has a larger market capitalisation than Target Corporation, Home Depot, Costco, Barnes and Noble, and Best Buy. The only traditional bricks and mortar retailer it isn’t bigger than is Walmart.

Downs says Amazon’s success is due in no small part to its brilliant user experience and its use of detailed user statistics to know what people are interested in buying.

“If I go to, it immediately presents me with products I’m interested in,” he says. “It’s been doing the ‘people who bought this also bought’ thing for years, but what it means is when I go to the site, I’m immediately presented with all these products I might like to buy, based on what I’ve bought before and what similar people to me have bought. Australian retailers just aren’t doing that. They might have a log-in, but they don’t do anything with it.

“The other thing Amazon is doing is tying social networks to give you personalised recommendations. It’s in beta testing at the moment, but what it’s going to do is instead of showing you recommendations based on your personal history, it’ll link in with your Facebook account to show you products your friends recently bought. It’ll also tie in ‘Likes’ on Facebook, so if someone buys a book on Amazon and goes on Facebook saying ‘this is brilliant’, that will be presented to you on Amazon.”

Talk to any expert about the future of online retailing and the words ‘Facebook’ and ‘social media’ will inevitably pop up sooner or later. The applications of these new communication channels are affecting every aspect of the ecommerce environment, none more so than marketing.

Australian electronics retailer Kogan recently launched above the line ads based on recent real-time social media feedback on its business. The TV commercials showed real Twitter and Facebook comments superimposed over images of happy customers receiving and using Kogan products. It’s not necessarily Cannes Lion-winning advertising, but when combined with the kind of direct-from-China prices Downs is talking about and an online store that is fully optimised around the user experience (see the breakout graphic), and designed to sell, it’s no wonder Kogan is the 15th fastest growing company in Australia (according to the 2010 BRW Fast 100 ranking).

While Kogan is making marketing industry headlines for using Facebook on television, there is another new wave of smaller specialist retailers making a big splash by effectively using Facebook as a content-rich catalogue. Scores of upstart new brands have discovered they can use Facebook ads to target fans of competitors and then use the channel to dribble out special deals and related editorial content to their new fans. The fashion industry has been a particularly savvy user of the channel.

Inspired by the success of blogs like The Sartorialist and LookBook, fashion retailers like Mr Porter and Princess Polly have built up hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans by consistently uploading interesting new content to their profiles and blogs – keeping front of mind in consumers heads and inviting fans to ‘shop the story’.

Mr Porter, for example, will run a feature article on the style of Jim Morrison, explain the ‘look’ and then lead people through a sales funnel so they can dress like a rock star.

The process works, and this advertisement > editorial > sales funnel method is one of the reasons why Facebook has become the biggest seller of online display advertisements in the US – topping $2 billion sales in the 2010/2011 financial year. When targeted correctly and combined with content that keeps fans returning, Facebook ads work incredibly well.

Just ask any one of the scores of group buying websites that have appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, in the last 18 months.


Group buying

If social media was the hero retail marketing trend of 2010, group buying is undoubtedly the biggest thing to happen in 2011. The concept is simple – you build a website and hire a sales team to convince retailers to give you a ridiculously cheap offer. The offer only goes on sale once a critical mass of people say they’ll buy your product, so the retailer doesn’t lose out, and the rock bottom prices and regularity of the deals means the group buying website is able to attract an audience of people who will check back every day to see what new deals are available. It’s not a new concept, but 2011 has been the year the phenomenon has really taken off, and it shows no sign of slowing.

Matt Glasner, general manager, Experian Marketing Services explains: “Based on the Experian data, we don’t expect to see a peak in group buying right now; it’s continuing to explode in popularity. We are seeing new entrants to the market on a regular basis, with activity on these sites representing additional online activity. Group buying is actually attracting more people onto the web and signifies new internet traffic, rather than taking internet time from existing sites.

“The driver behind this is that Australian consumers are looking to extract better value from retailers and we are witnessing a transformation in consumer behaviour, as people change the way they shop. It represents a fundamental shift in the way that consumers are using the internet to drive value, where they haven’t been able to gain value from traditional channels. Retailers are reluctant to move on the threat posed by these sites, but they will need to follow suit if they are to remain competitive against group buying and discount online retail sites, like Catch of the Day.”

A look at the Google Trends graph, showing the increase in search volume for market leader Scoopon, illustrates the level of interest from the public. In early 2010 the site was unheard of – a year later and search volume has increased 15-fold compared to the average. It is nothing short of a phenomenon.

But does it work?

In a nutshell – yes. As a marketing tool it can put a brand in front of an audience of millions (Scoopon claims more than 500,000 members) and there’s no risk involved because a company only has to go through with the deal if enough people buy it to make it commercially viable. Better still, you only pay the group buying site a commission once you get paid yourself, so unlike almost any other form of marketing, you’re paying purely for performance.

Even traditional publishers are getting in on the concept. In June, Vogue ran an online sale with special time-limited deals from its advertisers and managed to attract 35,000 unique browsers to its website between 5pm and midnight on a Wednesday evening.

Vogue advertisers reported record sales in conjunction with the offer, although a common criticism of group buying and ‘deal of the day’ sites is that people looking for the cheapest possible deal aren’t necessarily the ones you want in your store. Still, the exponential growth of the sector speaks for itself and anyone with a Facebook account would struggle to go a day without seeing an ad for a new group buying website pop up in the feed on the right-hand side.


So what’s next?

With the National Broadband Network starting to deliver next-generation internet speeds to Australian homes and technology beginning to make the leap from desktop to the television screen, it’s likely the future of retailing will be a lot more interactive.

Microsoft’s ‘Kinect’ technology for Xbox 360 already allows people to manipulate computer games without the use of traditional controllers, by monitoring the movement and shape of the human body (like Wii, but using your whole body instead of a handheld device). The same principle can be applied to clothes shopping, allowing people to ‘virtually’ try on garments from a store, or their own home. To get an idea of what this would look like, check out Cisco’s YouTube video on The Future of Shopping – it is amazing.

At the same time, Hitworks’ Paul Downs is urging brands not to forget the basics, like search engine marketing campaigns targeting people actively searching for your products, because, at the end of the day, when it comes to shopping online, there are a million choices and a decision on who to buy from inevitably comes down to price.

“Consumers crave great products at a great price and want an awesome retail experience, that is true, but with the power of internet search, shopping comparison sites and smartphone barcode readers such as Red Laser, today’s consumer literally has the power at their fingertips to price compare and purchase instantly online or find the nearest retailer to where they are located,” says Downs.

“Providing the consumer with the best-priced product should be an absolute priority, as consumers become more sophisticated and savvy to price comparisons and the means by which they can purchase become simpler and more convenient.”

Universal charm – Unilever brand profile

This feature first appeared in the September 2010 issue of Marketing magazine.


From pioneering welfare capitalism, to alleged objectification and discovering real beauty, Matt Granfield sees the world through Unilever’s all-seeing eye.

“The headless, pumped-up strippers that populate the Lynx site take us right back to the 1970s in terms of the way they commodify women’s bodies. They are as unenlightened as any I have seen in a long time.”

Lynx, of course, is the spray deodorant for teenage boys – it’s one of Unilever’s best-selling products and a source of Cannes advertising gold. The words are those of Dr Leslie Cannold – the ethicist, lecturer, author and feminist icon recently voted by The Age as being one of Australia’s top 20 public intellectuals. They echo one of the most common criticisms against this Anglo-Dutch megabrand – that it does a lot of good marketing work with a lot of products, but, every so often, one brand drops the ball and lets the whole team down.

Unilever would point out that as a company it has a long history of good corporate citizenship and progressive attitudes towards women. Its very first product was a soap invented in the 1890s to “lessen work for women”. Its recent ‘Dove Campaign for Real Beauty’ was launched to help widen the definition of beauty and offer a more diverse representation than the “stereotypical images that women and girls are bombarded with every day”. It won hearts and minds the world over and the brand’s support for eating disorder charity The Butterfly Foundation has garnered universal praise.

But a company with so many niches, so many markets and so many touch points can’t possibly please all the people all the time. As well as Lynx and Dove, it owns Lipton and Domestos, Continental and Omo, Streets ice-cream, Jif surface cleaner, Flora margarine, Vaseline, about half of everything else that ends up in your supermarket trolley each week and a veritable tonne of overseas products you haven’t even heard of.

Its products get used two billion times a day by more than 150 million people. Unilever’s turnover is as big as Coke and McDonald’s… combined. It consumes natural resources at a rate that would make BP blush. Surprisingly though, for a brand as busy as Unilever, there are few serious blights on its corporate report card. If it were a kindergarten student, it would probably get the principal’s award for good behaviour (not to mention attendance – it employs 174,000 people in 100 countries). Apart from the odd bit of headless misogyny and occasionally ending up on the pointy end of Greenpeace’s stick, Unilever remains reasonably controversy-free.

In fact, unlike some of its multinational, multibillion-dollar competitors and distant cousins, Unilever’s problem isn’t staying out of the news; it’s getting noticed at all. It may be responsible for some of the most memorable advertising campaigns in Australia’s history, its products may be ubiquitous; but as a brand unto itself, it has been largely unseen. Until now…

Marketing magazine speaks to Unilever Australasia chairman Sebastian Lazell and vice president of marketing David McNeil about the company’s strategic direction, takes them to task on the accusations of sexist hypocrisy and unravels the threads behind some of the brand’s greatest marketing campaigns.

A brief history of Unilever

In the 1890s, British businessman William Hesketh Lever, founder of Lever Bros (the ‘lever’ bit in Unilever), wrote down his ideas for Sunlight Soap – a revolutionary product in an age where showers hadn’t been invented, a bath was something you did on your birthday and electric washing machines were as common and as much fun as a trip to the dentist. His goal was “to make cleanliness commonplace, to lessen work for women, to foster health and contribute to personal attractiveness, that life may be more enjoyable and rewarding for the people who use our products”.

William Lever was quite good at making cleaning products it turned out, and Sunlight quickly became one of the first globally marketed consumer commodities. Up until that point most soap was made from rendered beef fat, but Lever was using palm oil, which, apart from being better for lathering, also featured the convenience of not having to boil cows. Animal liberationists were few and far between back then and university students who would otherwise have arranged inconvenient demonstrations against cow-boiling outside the factory had more important things to campaign for, like women’s suffrage, so the karmic benefits were somewhat lost at the time.

There were other pay-offs to using palm oil though: apart from being cheap, readily available and lusciously latherable, a tonne of palm oil smelled a hell of a lot better than a tonne of melting cow. Which meant people didn’t mind working in Lever’s factories as much. And not only did they not mind working in the factories, they were also open to the idea of living nearby.

Taking that into consideration, Lever decided to buy 56 acres of land near Liverpool and turn it into a Utopian worker village named ‘Port Sunlight’ (which, you have to admit, has a nicer ring to it than Williamlevertown). Between 1899 and 1914, 800 houses were built to support a population of 3500 people, along with a gigantic soap factory, a hospital, schools, a concert hall, an open-air swimming pool, church and a temperance hotel (Edwardian England speak for ‘pub with no beer’).

In building an entire town to support his enterprise, Lever’s goals were “to socialise and Christianise business relations and get back to the office, factory and workshop that close family brotherhood that existed in the good old days of hand labour”.

Port Sunlight was an exercise in profit-sharing, he said. Rather than hand out bonus cheques at the end of the year, he thought it was better to create a socially responsible, sustainable community that benefitted everyone.

“It would not do you much good if you send it down your throats in the form of bottles of whisky, bags of sweets or fat geese at Christmas,” he wrote.

“On the other hand, if you leave the money with me, I shall use it to provide for you everything that makes life pleasant – viz nice houses, comfortable homes and healthy recreation.”

Even the Government was impressed. At the opening of a recreation and dining hall for men, then Prime Minister William Gladstone was moved to declare that he had “found living proof that cash payment is not the only nexus between man and man”.

The workers were happy too, although two years after the temperance hotel opened a referendum showed that 80 percent of villagers wanted it to sell alcohol and Lever reluctantly bowed to the wishes of his workers.

It seems a quaint and not entirely unfamiliar story – other leading industrialists of the time, such as Henry Ford, were also setting up welfare capitalism programs (Ford even had a ‘Social Department’ with 50 investigators who spied on workers and withheld their profit-share if they were caught drinking too much or gambling). And while these early ideals of conservative labour Utopia seem archaic – Orwellian even – they played an important role in shaping the corporate philosophy of the organisation, one which is centred on social awareness and environmental sustainability being a key to profits.

The philosophy works now – in 2010 the company has an annual turnover of around AUS$60 billion – and it worked back then too. Lever Brothers was raking it in. By 1900 the company had added the Lifebuoy, Lux and Vim brands to its line-up and subsidiaries were set up in the US, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and Germany. By 1911, palm oil plantations had been set up in the Solomon Islands and Africa and the next couple of decades saw Lever Brothers buy out other major European soap makers, including Pears.

In 1930 Lever Brothers merged with Dutch food company, Margarine Unie (one of the world’s other biggest users of palm oil) and became Unilever.

As one of the world’s first ‘modern’ multinational corporations, Unilever certainly had a strange mix of product lines. Soap and margarine go together about as well as Jif and Continental instant mash. But it was this diversity that provided a platform for growth. Over the next few decades the company branched out even further, buying and diversifying. In 1959, Unilever acquired McNivens ice-cream in Australia followed by Streets and Sennitts. In 1963, the business acquired Rosella Foods. Five years later the John West operation began in Australia and in 1971 Unilever acquired Lipton Tea. By 1980 soap and margarine accounted for just 40 percent of profits worldwide.

In 1989, the home and personal care businesses of Lever & Kitchen and Rexona merged in Australia to form L&K: Rexona, which later changed to Lever Rexona. In 2000, Lever Rexona merged with Unilever Foods to form what is now Unilever Australasia. The brand is notoriously shy on revealing exactly how much money it makes in this country, but if you remember the fact that its global turnover is roughly equal to that of Coke and McDonalds combined, you can start to get a sense of the impact that it has in the marketplace.

The Unilever brand

Unilever’s corporate philosophy is this: “We help people feel good, look good and get more out of life with brands and services that are good for them and good for others.”

Australasian vice president of marketing David McNeil says the company philosophy hasn’t changed much over time and, despite the huge number of brands in its portfolio, the core values can be distilled into a simple ideal.

“Unilever as a company has got a pretty simple message that it’s taking to people: as a company we believe we can help to create a better future every day for everybody,” says McNeil.“We’re a food company and a home and personal care company. We’re in 120-plus countries around the world, and have been for so long that we’re best placed to be able to make that promise to society, and that’s what we believe we’re in business to do, and that’s what our products are all collectively aimed at accomplishing.”

Unilever Australasia chairman Sebastian Lazell recognises that although most Australians have long known the brand’s trademarks, including Lipton, Rexona, Lynx and Streets, an overall understanding of what the Unilever brand stands for has traditionally been much more limited.

“Unilever has had a fantastically long heritage in Australia. It’s been in this country since the very end of the 19th century and is linked to some of the strongest brand offerings within Australian consumer life,” says Lazell.

“However, one of the things we recognised was that very few consumers could actually piece brands they knew and loved together and link them to a company.”

McNeil says that to address the issue of overall Unilever brand recognition, the company had to take a more direct approach to marketing itself as a group. The most obvious embodiment of that strategy was an action as simple as putting its trademarked ‘U’ logo on product television commercials.

“Unilever is transacting with consumers or having engagements with consumers two billion times a day around the world; it’s just an arithmetic truth of the number of countries that we’re in, the number of products that we sell and the number of consumers that are purchasing and using those products.

“The view was that with those two billion occasions, because we are doing a lot in the area of nutrition, in hygiene and so on, that you add up all of those two billion occasions around the world, and Unilever is in the rare position of any other company to take all of these little actions and add them up to a very big global difference.

“But what we found in many countries around the world, including Australia and New Zealand, is that consumers’ familiarity with the products that make up the Unilever company was not very well-known at all, and so the capacity for consumers here to have a number of small actions adding up to a big difference was being hampered by the fact that Unilever was seen and known as a company, but not as the parent of so many popular brands,” continues McNeil.

“One of the initiatives we’ve been doing since March is tagging all of our television commercials with a little brand sign-off, a Unilever brand sign-off, that is intended to just slowly make consumers aware that each of these different brand propositions are brought to you by the one place, and so if they care to check the packaging on our different products, and want to make a bigger difference with these small actions, then they know where to do that.“At the moment, it’s restricted just to our TV commercials, but over time our intention is to build consumers’ awareness of the association between our brands and Unilever.”Just like the company itself, the Unilever logo is a unified pastiche of products that combine to create a strong brand identity built around sustainability and social responsibility.

The company calls it “an expression of vitality, which is at the heart of everything we do”. Each icon within the logo represents an aspect of the business and “shows our commitment to adding vitality to life”.


Highlights and memorable campaigns

Unilever is currently the eighth biggest media spender in Australia and the second biggest in New Zealand. If you’ve watched TV or driven down a highway in the last 100 years, you’ll be familiar with its ads.

Universal McCann does all of its media buying and planning, and it’s a relationship McNeil says is “very happy” and “very collaborative”. When it comes to above the line creative work though, it typically shuns the big global advertising agencies in favour of half a dozen or so key below the line and digital partners, which are used to deploy the marketing communication strategies that are, for the most part, developed overseas.

Speaking about his favourite Australian campaigns of the last few decades, McNeil says there are a few clear standouts, including those for Paddle Pop, Magnum, Lynx, its laundry detergents and, in a sign of the times, a Facebook page for ice-cream brand Bubble O’ Bill, which was started by a fan.

“From a local base, I think one of Unilever’s most successful exports has been Paddle Pop,” says McNeil.

“Paddle Pop is a brand that was invented in Australia around 55 years ago and it has continued to be a very, very popular ice-cream brand in Australia for generations of kids and adults alike. It was born and bred in Australia, but is now in 20 countries around the world and is fast becoming one of the most popular brands in Asia and in parts of Europe.

“The Paddle Pop Lion has been linked with the brand almost since its inception and the Lick-a-Prize consumer promotion started in Australia and has been [run] on and off for the last 25 years. It’s something that the team here came up with, and is now a cornerstone of kids’ ice-cream for Unilever around the world.

“Another one also in ice-cream is the Magnum brand, which was developed in Europe, but a campaign run around 10 years ago called ‘Magnum Seven Deadly Sins’ originated here by the marketing and R and D team locally,” continues McNeil. “It quickly became the most successful ice-cream campaign ever run within Unilever in terms of sales. It ran in several countries in Europe in particular, but it was an idea that was born and started here in Australia.”

When it comes to sustainable business strategy and marketing combining, McNeil says one campaign that was probably less recognised from a public point of view was Unilever’s commitment to reducing the size of its detergent packs.

“Last year, on all of our laundry detergents, we started an industry-wide campaign to cut in half the size of the boxes and the amount of products and chemicals necessary to use in people’s laundry detergents with our Omo and Surf brands. That created a groundswell of change last year for good in terms of the reduction of trucks that are used, reduction of chemicals that are used and the reduction of packaging materials that are used,” he says.

“We went from a box that was one kilogram and reduced it by 50 percent, down to 500 grams, and still provided the same cleaning power for consumers. That degree of reduction all in one go was the most extensive that we’ve seen around the world.”

Universally changing laundry detergent packaging sizes around the globe was obviously a massively complex logistical process for Unilever and the environmental effects have been far reaching. However, McNeil says one of the most interesting changes to take place in his world in recent times has been the use of social networks in marketing strategy. One brand in particular, Bubble O’ Bill, has become huge on Facebook – taking everyone by surprise.

“We’ve been using social media and social networking sites as part of our marketing quite extensively in the last three years as a way for us to be able to have a dialogue with consumers on a cost-effective basis about brands in our portfolio that haven’t necessarily enjoyed big budget advertising spends.

“Bubble O’ Bill, for example, now has 540,000 friends – making it, I’m led to believe, the number one branded Facebook page in Australia. And it’s been growing at nearly 100,000 fans every few months. It just seems to be rising and rising, and that’s without us really doing much of anything.

“It’s just grown organically. The page was started by this one fan, this guy who just loved Bubble O’ Bill and then eventually we caught wind of the popularity that he was building and decided to get in behind him and to try and help out a little bit by being more active ourselves and helping the page along.

“But really, there’s very little money being directed that way from us. It’s just a lot of conversation, which incidentally is, culturally within my team, becoming a very important source for us to do consumer research, to just watch and listen to the conversations that are happening and to pick up things about our products and our brands that people are saying. It has proven to be hugely insightful for my team and me.”

McNeil says he was surprised an ice-cream brand “in the middle of the pack” in terms of sales garnered such a following on Facebook, but he is being deliberately careful not to try and ‘fix what’s not broken’ by messing around with the Facebook page too much.

“It definitely floored us that there could be anywhere near the following that it’s become; that’s been completely unpredicted,” he says. “But I think marketers have to think very carefully about helping and, in an effort to try and accelerate something that has a steam of its own, I think we in marketing can also get in the way. So my position on Bubble O’ Bill is that there are a lot of people out there enjoying the freedom to have the conversations that they want in the way they want it to happen, and we’re just pretty happy that that’s going on, and for now that’s about as far as we plan to push it.”

And the prize goes to…

In terms of advertising awards, Unilever has a reasonable trophy cabinet, but McNeil says one of his favourite award-winning Australian campaigns was one that ran in 2005 for Lynx.

Titled ‘LYNX Jet’, it was an integrated campaign that envisioned an airline run by the brand, with an emphasis on ‘personal’ customer service and a unique sort of inflight entertainment, which included attractive, scantily clad female cabin crew spanking, pillow fighting and hula-hooping. The campaign ran in print media, television, ambient and direct channels, and at one stage involved the leasing of Jetstar aeroplanes flying to the Gold Coast for schoolies week, complete with hot hostesses in yellow uniforms.

The campaign generated more than 260,000 unique visitors to the LYNX Jet website and, according to advertising agency Lowe, generated a 14.2 percent increase in market share, bringing the brand up to a dominating 84.5 percent. It also won the Grand Prix in the Cannes Media Lions, along with two Gold Lions in the Lions Direct awards and a Promo Lion in the sales promotion category. You can watch Lowe’s case study on the campaign at




Dove versus Lynx

They say that with great power comes great responsibility and, in Unilever’s case, its global dominance puts a massive weight on its shoulders. As a company with a long, proud history of social and environmental goodwill, it takes its mantra of creating “a better future every day for everybody” quite seriously. William Lever’s philanthropy in Edwardian England was noted globally, and in 2010 the senior executives still sing from the same song sheet (even if the words are no longer hymns).

Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ is perhaps Unilever’s best-known societal changeprogram. To quote the Campaign for Real Beauty website: “The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is a global effort launched in 2004 to serve as a starting point for societal change and act as a catalyst for widening the definition and discussion of beauty. The campaign supports the Dove mission: to make more women feel beautiful every day by widening stereotypical views of beauty. The brand’s commitment to the mission starts with using real women, not professional models, of various ages, shapes and sizes to provoke discussion and debate about today’s typecast beauty images. Employing various communication vehicles, including advertising, a website, billboards, events, a self-esteem fund and more – the campaign invites women to join in a discussion about beauty and share their views with women around the world.”

Perhaps the most well-known execution of the campaign was a 2006 viral video entitled ‘Dove Evolution’, which showed an ‘ordinary’ woman being made up and Photoshopped to look like a supermodel on a typical fashion billboard. If you haven’t seen the video, search YouTube for ‘Dove Evolution’ – you’ll be the 11 million and somethingth viewer.

The video has won numerous awards, including two Cannes Gold Lions, and the program has drawn near universal praise from body image groups, including Australia’s own The Butterfly Foundation, which receives support and funding from the ‘Dove Self-Esteem Fund’.

The campaign has also, however, garnered strong condemnation from marketing critics, academics and women’s rights groups for its apparent hypocrisy. Virtually no one thinks the campaign has been a bad idea, but the criticism is that it’s hypocritical of Unilever to claim that it is trying “to make more women feel beautiful every day by widening stereotypical views of beauty” in one program, while at the same time parading scantily clad models around in television commercials, websites and magazine ads for its Lynx brand.Dr Leslie Cannold is a leading ethics academic and women’s rights author. She cites ‘The Lynx Effect’ campaign website (, which features multiple images of headless bikini models and a section where members of the public can write their name on a model’s bare cleavage, naked thighs or stomach, as a standout example of hypocrisy. She also questions whether or not the company’s intentions with Dove are truly world changing, or just a disingenuous way to make more money.

“I think we always need to be cynical about the motivations of pro-social corporate activities. The raison d’être of business is to turn a profit, and it is therefore fair to assume that most of what corporations do is intended, directly or indirectly, to achieve that aim,” says Dr Cannold.

“The Lynx ads suggest we have good reason to be cynical about the Dove ads, and accompanying fiscal support for positive body image programs. If Unilever is willing to ruthlessly exploit the headless bodies of women to sell Lynx, why should we believe the Real Beauty campaign is anything other than a cynical attempt to exploit community dismay about such exploitation to serve its bottom line.

“The Lynx ads give us good reason to think, in other words, that the only reason Unilever is taking the Real Beauty line is because it’s a good way to sell product to women, not because they really care that young women come of age with positive body image and self-esteem.

“The headless, pumped-up strippers that populate the Lynx site take us right back to the 1970s in terms of the way they commodify women’s bodies. They are as unenlightened as any I have seen in a long time and could not form a sharper contrast with the right-on ideas that permeate the Real Beauty campaign.

“I challenge Unilever to explain how these images are in any way different to those condemned in the Real Beauty campaign. How they are not part of the advertising onslaught that the Real Beauty campaign condemns for pressuring girls and contributing to their unrealistic ideal of beauty and their unhealthy belief that unless they look like a supermodel they have little to offer men or the wider world,” adds Dr Cannold.

And she isn’t alone in her criticism. Rachel Hills is a journalist, blogger and widely-published freelance writer, specialising in social analysis. She also feels that Unilever’s Lynx commercials are a step back in time, and anything but the “starting point for societal change” the company preaches in its Campaign for Real Beauty.

“[They] play into women’s body insecurities,” she says. “But they do it in relatively subtle and complicated ways. It’s not about the fact that these women are beautiful, or even that they’re sexualised. It’s about the way they perpetuate the idea that women have to be attractive in order to be valuable, and that they have to be attractive in a very specific, narrow way.

“Interestingly, I think this is something that impacts young men as much as it does young women. You rarely find someone with a narrower definition of what’s attractive than an insecure teenage boy – and I think this in turn magnifies young women’s insecurities. A lot of teenage girls think the only way they can be attractive or loveable is if they’re very, very thin.”

But Sebastian Lazell defends Lynx’s advertising approach, saying, “We have to respond to a direct need of different target audiences, and clearly the consumer of the Dove brand and the user of the Lynx brand are very different individuals, and therefore need to be addressed in different ways.

“What I think is interesting and unites them is that they both address some inherent potential insecurities or uncertainties, whether you’re talking about young women for whom self-esteem can be further enhanced by recognition that all those female bodies and faces that are seen throughout the beauty industry may not reflect reality, and that they should be more confident and comfortable with themselves. Or, the young teenage boy who is deep down, an insecure and unconfident adolescent who, to become a strong and confident individual going forward, does sometimes need a little bit of help and support – and that’s where Lynx body sprays come in.

“They are different target audiences. Our job is to appeal to them in different ways, and in both cases we believe we’re doing a good thing for self-esteem and self-confidence. We actually understand from the work we do with young women that they are in on the joke, and actually see us as helping the guys along. It’s so exaggerated and extreme in terms of what it’s putting out there, that it is understood to be what it is, which is light humour. If anything, the stereotype that is being kind of poked fun at is the somewhat unconfident and gawky young adolescent male.”

Pushing aside the opinions of chairmen, marketers, feminist academics and bloggers, prominent Sydney Twitterer and creative strategist for Jack Morton Worldwide, Katie Chatfield, perhaps puts it better than anyone when she sums up the argument in fewer than 140 characters with this succinct observation:

“Is it impossible to believe that women understand the impulses of teenage boys? And not hate themselves or the boys for it?”

Whichever way you look at it, Unilever shows no signs of changing the way it markets either its Lynx or its Dove products. Clearly both methods are working and whatever criticism it is attracting in this arena isn’t ruffling enough feathers for the brand to consider any about-faces just yet.

Greenpeace, palm oil and the future of Unilever

Of course, Unilever may be happy to stand tall in the face of academic criticism in the beauty arena, but when it comes to serious questions about how company practices are affecting the environmental sustainability of the fourth most populous nation on earth, and the accuser is Greenpeace, it’s a completely different ball game.

In 2008 Unilever was targeted by Greenpeace UK and was criticised for buying palm oil from suppliers responsible for causing significant deforestation in Indonesia. As a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the company quickly responded by announcing a plan to obtain its palm oil from sources certified as sustainable. It was a turnaround that was hailed by critics and the company was eventually praised by Greenpeace on its decision. In April 2010, Unilever topped the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) palm oil buyers’ score card for being the number one business in Australia when it comes to adopting sustainable palm oil practices.

Lazell explains the problem and admits that although “from time to time [Greenpeace] may well bring something to our attention that we had missed”, he contends that it was Unilever’s sustainable approaches to agriculture as a whole that were the real story.

“By 2004 Unilever had actually already set up, as a founding member – with a number of other institutions, including NGOs (non-government organisations) like the WWF and Oxfam – the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil, which recognised the need to engage with the palm oil growing industry in Indonesia and Malaysia, and move to more sustainable practice,” he says.

“This was three to four years I think before the specific Greenpeace intervention. Now, do we, as I think we said at the time, credit and acknowledge the value that can be made from time to time where somebody intervenes and goes, ‘Have you seen what this particular supplier is doing?’, which maybe our audits and our scrutiny hadn’t picked up. We appreciate that, and we take extra action. But we were four to five years down the path of the sustainable palm oil drive before that particular intervention.

“We’re also constantly revising the actions that we take. If suppliers don’t abide by the principles and guidelines of the sustainable palm oil industry, then action is taken against them, and a number of actions have been taken in recent times around withholding contracts from suppliers who don’t abide.”

McNeil agrees, saying that at the end of the day Unilever as a company benefits far more from being a good corporate citizen than it would by only implementing campaigns that have an immediate and obvious impact on the bottom line.

“We are the world’s leading tea company, primarily with Lipton, and we’ve made a series of commitments – both locally and globally – to purchase all of our black tea from sustainable sources by 2015. As the largest buyer of tea in the world, we’re able to make a very significant difference to the lives of those that are working on or connected to tea plantations around the world,” says McNeil.

“In Australia last year, we moved forward with a commitment around a Rainforest Alliance Certified tea. It so happens, maybe coincidentally, maybe not, but by bringing that to consumers’ attention and by providing that to the market, Lipton is a strong performing business for us commercially and is the market leader in tea in Australia, and has been enjoying good success commercially for a number of years.

“Unilever has a fairly simple view, which is that we will do well financially by doing good in a societal sense and in a sustainability sense. It’s not meant to be a cliché and it’s not meant to be an altruistic statement. The genuine company belief is that we will do well organisationally by doing good for society.

“We’re doing well by doing good.”

The future of… social media

This feature first appeared in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Marketing magazine.


As 2011 comes to an end, Marketing magazine decided to take a look at the most rapidly evolving channels. The pace of change across the industry made this a difficult decision, but the three we’ve analysed all share a common, and ever evolving, game-changer: technology.

In the first of our predictions trilogy, Matt Granfield looks at how social media and brands will meet in 2012.

Two years ago, social media was the future. Now, according to research by Nielsen, social networks and blogs are the top online destination for the world’s internet users, accounting for the majority of time spent online. Social media is bigger than porn. Social media is more popular than email.

As Brian Solis, principal at US research group Altimeter (and world-renowned social media guru), says: “We’re finally approaching the end of the hype curve.” So now is the time to start making sense of exactly what social media means for the future of business and media.

There are plenty of major brands in Australia that still don’t have a social media strategy, of course, but they’re lucky in a way, because for every company still wondering whether or not to open a Twitter account, there are two others who’ve already paved a path, made the mistakes and figured out how these new social channels can make a positive impact on a business’ bottom line.

In an effort to try and see the way forward for those still trying to catch up (read: nearly everyone), we decided to speak to some Australian online marketing and communications pioneers and ask them what they saw around the corner for the future of social media.

No one would challenge Telstra’s position as a digital marketing innovator in Australia. The region’s largest telco has typically been one of the first major corporations in our part of the world to embrace each social channel as it has emerged. It was blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, Flickring and YouTubing before most companies had figured out what LOL meant. Leading the charge as head of online communications and social media from 2009 until a couple of months ago, when she left the organisation to join PR agency Haystac, was Kristen Boschma. Her crystal ball sees marketers and communicators joining hands to get a whole lot more sophisticated in their use of the new technologies, in a whole range of new places we didn’t think social media could go.

“Up until now we’ve seen companies leverage social media in their marketing campaigns, but I think in the next 12 months what we’ll see is a real increase in sophistication and skill of corporate Australia embracing social media,” says Boschma. “In particular, we’ll see a real increase in social CRM and a much greater knowledge of our customers’ buying habits, and using social media to analyse consumption habits. I also think we’ll get a lot more sophisticated in terms of leveraging our PR and our marketing efforts and bringing them all into alignment, so we’ve got a more consistent approach and a more consistent brand view.”

She also thinks consumers will really start to define how they use each channel and will demand platforms that allow them to really segment the various communities with which they engage.

“I think Google has been really smart with its creation of circles, because I think conceptually that’s how consumers are going to start to view social media in terms of ‘that’s a distinct community I belong to, and I behave this way on that channel, with these friends’, and they might view a different channel as a completely different community and they might engage with that community with a completely different persona,” says Boschma.

“The strength of any new social network has to be measured on the habits it forms. For example, Facebook has changed the way we use the internet, full stop. It has changed the way we engage with our friends on a personal level. If I look at Google Plus and the huddle approach it has taken to video conferencing, I think that has really powerful implications for the way companies can market to consumers, in terms of bringing them into their inner circle, making the interaction with the company real. Companies will start saying, ‘We’re going to have a hangout now with the ice-cream flavour development department. Come and hang out with us and tell us what you think’, or ‘Come and see what happens at Sunrise (the Channel Seven breakfast program) in between the ad breaks and find out what really goes on’. Bringing consumers into your corporate hangouts and making them much more a part of the organisation, and the inner workings of your organisation, is a really interesting idea.”

Beyond innovations around video conferencing, Boschma says people can also expect social media to start reaching out to them in places that have traditionally been social, but not necessarily connected.

“If we’re talking beyond 12 months, what’s going to be really interesting, and we’re starting to see the signs of it already, is social media in completely different environments. At the moment it’s all about PCs and smartphones and tablets, but a couple of years down the track, social media will be reaching your lounge room via your TV, or your car via your stereo. That’s going to give social media the power to be pervasive on multiple, multiple channels,” she says.

Over in the banking world, it may still be a while before you can check your credit card balance on your subwoofer, but NAB (National Australia Bank) and the Commonwealth Bank have been introducing a number of innovations in the way customers can interact with the organisations and find consumer-generated opinions of their products. The Commonwealth Bank introduced an online chat function in 2009, which allows customers to initiate an online chat with call centre staff. This technology hooked into the existing call centre queue management software and allows for intelligent routing of requests to specific call centre groups. It’s not rocket science, but it was an important step forward in online engagement for an industry that has more stringent online security issues than any other sector (except perhaps for defence).

In another interesting move, NAB recently became the first Australian bank to adopt what it dubbed ‘social commerce’ on its website to assist customers in the online buying process.

Since October, NAB has been displaying customer ratings and reviews of its credit card products online to provide useful feedback to potential customers to help them make better decisions about which products might suit them.

NAB’s general manager of digital, direct banking, Chris Smith, says that the bank’s focus is on improving relationships with customers and making changes to offer Australians better alternatives.

“Social feedback has a big and growing influence on purchase decisions, and reviews by other NAB customers will provide valuable, independent feedback for those considering an NAB credit card,” he says.

Smith believes that the reviews will also help existing customers get more out of their products and learn about features of which they previously were unaware. Importantly, the feedback will be used to give NAB insight on what customers like about their credit cards and highlight areas for changes and improvements. To date, NAB has received more than 360 customer ratings and reviews on seven of its credit cards.

Consumer ratings aren’t a new concept, of course. TripAdvisor, and countless other ecommerce platforms and review websites have been socialising opinions for more than a decade, but, like NAB, big businesses are only just starting to get more perspective on the wider business potential of what Karalee Evans, digital communications pioneer, senior director and APAC digital strategist at public relations firm Text 100, calls ‘the collaborative consumption of information online.’

“We’re looking at collaborative wikis that are popping up where people are taking ownership of the sharing of information,” says Evans.

“It’s the TripAdvisor model, but we’re starting to see it for sectors such as health and education. MySchool is the government example of where people can collaborate and network based on how their school is performing. They can talk to each other and find out information about a school’s arts program, or its sports program.”

Evans, who counts Optus, IBM, Fuji Xerox Australia and Yahoo!7 as clients, says the smartest companies are chopping down their silos and using social platforms to let different departments engage with each other.

“The businesses that will be competitive in tomorrow’s markets are the ones that can adapt to change and take a whole of business approach to collaboration and social media, not just from the marketing or PR department,” she says.

“CMOs need to be talking to their CTOs. Businesses need to remove the silos of their departments and start to ensure that they’re collaborating and sharing business intelligence. And that’s where the concept of ‘big data’ comes in – getting companies to use and analyse everything they know about their customers across all departments. Businesses need to understand how their consumers are behaving, where they’re going and start to forecast what the trends are.

“They need to trust their agencies as well, and the strategists in those agencies need to be on top of the trends and making really frank and fearless recommendations about what businesses should be doing – and they’re going to either sink or swim based on those recommendations,” argues Evans.

Which is all well and good if you’re IBM or NAB, but what if you’re over on the other side of the business spectrum, wondering how you can do something as simple as making your Facebook page a little more engaging or profitable?

Zac Martin, digital strategist at George Patterson Y&R in Melbourne, sums up the future of social media at the smaller end of town.

“With social media, notoriously dull and dry brands have been given a personal and sometimes even likeable voice that consumers can talk with directly,” says Martin.

“Throw some excellent social media customer service, where I haven’t had to sit on hold for 20 minutes – that I’ve experienced recently – and for me, at the moment, these are the guys who are crushing it in this space.

“The best thing brands can do moving forward is to provide that old marketing chestnut: value. There are too many brands at the moment focusing on pointless things like getting as many ‘Likes’ as possible on a status update. As more and more brands jump online, consumers are going to become more selective about who they like/follow/subscribe to, and the brands who write shitty status updates that don’t actually have any value… will be the first to go.”


This article is featured in the December/January issue of Marketing magazine.

When Gillard steals your (clients) thunder…

Digital agency Memery flipped the biggest news week to their client’s advantage through a Google AdWords campaign.

A promotional tour orchestrated by The Diet Plate involving a star from the UK’s The Biggest Loser has leveraged the Gillard ascendancy through a Google AdWords campaign.

Searches for ‘Kevin Rudd‘ returned the following:

The Diet Plate

Lose weight while

eating humble pie

While searches for ‘Julia Gillard’ returned:

The Diet Plate
Portion control
for women in control

Matt Granfield, guru blogger and Marketing magazine writer, owns Memery.

For a full list of the AdWords campaign, see Granfield’s personal blog.

Why social media and marketing dont mix

The reason why social networking websites are so popular

You’ve seen the news, been to the conference and watched the YouTube video. You can’t hide from it; social media is huge. In fact Facebook has almost 8 million users in Australia alone and Twitter is growing at a rate of more than 1000% per year. Face it – your grandmother is probably on some sort of social network by now — just cross your fingers you don’t end up coming face to face with her on chat roulette one night.

But why are social networks so popular?

Social networks are the new town halls, the village greens, the community noticeboards; the piazzas of 2010. They allow people to communicate with each other, but just as importantly, they allow people to create an online extension of their personality. It’s that simple. In fact, it’s where the name ‘MySpace’ comes from. The creators allowed people (kids mostly) to create their own personal space on the web.

Once upon a time people had secret diaries, bedroom walls covered in polaroids, a box of love letters hidden under the bed and a little black book of friends names, phone numbers and birthdays. Everything was on paper, and people shared information with their friends by handing it to them in person. Now all that personal stuff is stored digitally and people share it via email, or by uploading it to their favourite social network.

And people share rather a lot of stuff.

In fact, the average internet user spends almost 20% of their working day sending and receiving email (according to Radicati), more than five hours a month on Facebook, about two hours a month on Google and an hour and 20 minutes each month on YouTube (according to Nielsen).

And those are the figures for the average user. There are plenty of Facebook and YouTube fans who spend more time on those sites than they do sleeping.

It’s no wonder then that marketers are so keen to get their messages into these mediums.

Where marketers have been going wrong

The problem is, people don’t like sharing their personal space with marketers. Ask anyone who’s ever been called at 8 am on a weekend by their phone company, had a Jehovah’s Witness at their door or been offered a penis enlargement solution. People accept that they’ll see advertising on TV, and in the right-hand column on Facebook, but once brands start trying to infiltrate conversations outside the space where they have permission too, people get annoyed.

Shopping centre giant Westfield ran a promotion in the lead-up to Christmas last year. The idea was that if you changed your Facebook status to “All I want for Christmas is a $10,000 Westfield Gift Card” you went in the running to win one. It certainly wasn’t a terrible idea at face value. It generated a lot of publicity for the brand with more than 200,000 people changing their status, but inevitably, the novelty wore off quite quickly and a dozen popular anti-Westfield groups sprung up, including one titled IF ALL YOU WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS A WESTFIELD GIFT CARD, I DONT WANT TO KNOW, which attracted more than 4,600 fans — only marginally less than the official application, which at last count had 6,778 fans (and keep in mind they were in it to win something). Other groups included THE LAST THING I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS A WESTFIELD GIFT CARD, and my personal favourite, Hey Westfield – stick your stupid f%#king gift card up your f%#king arse!!!

Despite actually working with Facebook on the campaign, Westfield also managed to fail on a couple of technical fundamentals as well. The entry mechanism was clearly against Facebook’s Terms of Service which stated that:

“In the rules of the promotion, or otherwise, you will not condition entry to the promotion upon taking any action on Facebook, for example, updating a status, posting on a profile or Page, or uploading a photo.”

And, as Damien Damjanovski explains in his Refined Geek blog, there were some other pretty basic things they could have done to create more buzz, like getting people to become fans of the brand rather than just updating their status.

Fashion brand Witchery recently provided one of the most notorious examples of a brand abusing the trust that exists in social networks. You’ve probably already heard the story, but in a nutshell, they posted a video on YouTube showing a paid actor holding a very prominently displayed jacket which had been left behind by a cute male owner. The video was her ‘plea’ to the public to help find him. The tale attracted widespread media attention, no doubt because of its similarity to the ‘NY Girl of My Dreams’ story which thrilled the world two years earlier, and the actor even went on live breakfast television claiming the story was true. It was, of course, completely made up and Witchery copped an enormous amount of flack for blatantly lying to the public.

The agency behind the campaign, Naked Communications, claimed the campaign was successful and cited independent research which backed their strategy up. But the raw data showed that 60% of people who were aware of the campaign were either unphased, sceptical or felt negatively about it. The sudden departure of the agency’s CEO straight after the debacle didn’t exactly send a message of success either.

Facebook advertising – just because you have permission to talk doesn’t mean they’ll listen

Trying to surreptitiously infiltrate social networks is one clear example of where marketers are going wrong, but sadly, even if you have permission to reach people via social network advertising, the chances of actually getting through to them are slim.

According to industry blogs and Facebook’s own forums, advertising click through rates (CTR) in the network average around 0.01-0.1%. If you can get more than 1 person in 1000 clicking your ad, you’re apparently doing well. Compare this to the average click through rate of Google’s AdWords program, which is around 1-5%, and you’ll quickly understand the difference between advertising something to a consumer who is actively searching for your product or service, and someone who mentioned something vaguely related to your product or service a year ago when they created their Facebook profile.

That’s not to say Facebook advertising doesn’t work. More often than not it’s just not the best place to be looking for prospects because they’re probably not in the mood.

Going ‘Viral’ on YouTube (and how much money you need to spend to make it happen for free)

So what about YouTube then? According to their official stats:

  • Every minute, 20 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube
  • 51% of users go to YouTube weekly or more often
  • 52% of 18-34 year-olds share videos often with friends and colleagues

Given that more than half the US population watch more than 100 videos on YouTube each month (according to ComScore), Youtube is more popular than any television network in the world. Considering it’s free to put a video on the site, you’d be forgiven for thinking that YouTube sounds like a marketer’s wet dream. It’s not.

According to Business Insider, more than half of all videos on YouTube are viewed less than 500 times and 30% of them get less than 100 views. A mere 0.33% are viewed more than a million times. 

While there are some great examples of corporations getting their clip to go ‘viral’, there is no magic formula to make it happen.

Producing entertaining content helps and making people laugh is a sure fire way to attract a little bit of attention (at least from friends of your friends), but there’s absolutely no way to predict how many people will end up seeing your video and that makes it incredibly hard to justify the production costs to whoever holds the purse strings.

You can’t make a video go ‘viral’ and given that 90% of videos are viewed less than 5,000 times, unless your production costs are close to zero, hoping your clip will spread over the internet like a rash is a costly gamble.

Tourism Queensland recently provided one of the best examples of how to use YouTube in the marketing mix. Beginning with a series of classified ads in the job sections of newspapers around the world, they advertised a position for an ‘Island Caretaker’ on the Great Barrier Reef – a 6 month contract paying $150,000 to basically have a tropical island holiday and blog about it.

It was a slow news week and news outlets from around the world quickly picked up on the quirky story. The total global advertising budget was rumoured to be in the millions, but the free exposure the organisation got was worth hundreds of times more than that in advertising value equivalency (an antiquated public relations term which means ‘the amount of money you’d have to pay to get the same amount of coverage via advertising’).

The result was around 250,000 views of the centrepiece video on YouTube – which is not a small number, but testament to the fact that if you want to guarantee more than a few thousand people see your YouTube video, you need an integrated global advertising and PR campaign, a big wad of cash and a generous slice from a lucky pie chart. In fact, as Tourism Queensland digital marketing manager Sarah Whyte explained to me, “the media publicity was a fundamental element underpinning the campaign — certainly in propagating the viral in the first instance.”

Social media as a customer service platform

Thinking back to that stats I mentioned earlier, you’ll remember that social media is big. People are used to communicating with each other online. It’s convenient, they can do it 24/7 and if companies are prepared to provide an online channel for their customers to use, they’ll respond happily.

Big companies, from Google to ABC Childcare, now use online forums as a way for their customers to get in touch with them 24/7. Company representatives keep an eye on the questions, but more importantly, so do other loyal customers, who often chime in with a helpful answer first.

People love to feel important and letting them speak proudly about a company they love is probably the best way to create brand ambassadors.

Optus and Telstra have also had huge success using Twitter as a customer service platform. Dedicated customer service teams monitor messages from the public and are committed to getting back to them quickly and professionally.

However, opening up your customer service to an online audience is fraught with risk.

When they’re upset people love to complain loudly and they love it even more if they know they have an audience. Once you give them a platform to yell, they will. And if potential new clients are using the same forum (or Twitter account), seeing a long list of gripes from existing customers isn’t exactly going to make you look awesome. And if you can’t get back to people as quickly as they think they deserve an answer, you’re going to make yourself look like you don’t care.

Once you start communicating on a social media channel you can’t change your mind and then shut it down again either. You’ll look like you’re crazy, or you don’t care. It’s like talking to your mum on the phone. If you suddenly stop calling one week she’ll think you’re on drugs. That being said, if you happen to work in the social media customer service department of a large company and forget which account you’re updating, people are going to think you’re on drugs anyway, as Westpac found out last week:

So what’s the moral to the story? How can you successfully use social networks to flog stuff, I mean, market things?

Social networks are spaces for individuals to communicate with each other, to hang out and to document their lives. It’s a place for friends (in fact, that’s MySpace’s strapline). If you want to get attention you’ve got to go about it the same way you would if you were trying to make a new friend: be interesting, be funny, talk about stuff they like and don’t be overbearing. Having a reputation that precedes you doesn’t hurt either – it’s much easier to make friends with a friend of a friend, and in the same way, if your social media strategy is backed up with a solid PR and above the line campaign, you’re more likely to make an impact.

Want more examples of how to do it right?

Stay tuned for my next column and we’ll go through a detailed list of Australian companies doing awesome things with social media at all levels – from small businesses, right through to the biggest banks. If you can’t wait, check out James Duthie’s great list of Australian businesses and brands on Twitter. It’s a year old now, so it’s probably a bit out of date, but it’s a great place to see some examples in action.

Audit: 2009 marketing predictions

Last year I made some marketing predictions for 2009. I thought it might be timely to see how accurate I was before I hypothesised my marketing predictions for 2010.

Prediction #1: Marketing budgets will be slashed by 35%.

Looks like I wasnt too far off actually. Forresters Laura Ramos found that marketing budgets went down by 23% in 2009. Its not quite as dire as I predicted, but that being said, there arent many things people would be happy losing almost a quarter of (unless of course youre Jenny Craig and your thing is Magda Szubanski).

Prediction #2: Marketing expectations will be raised by 35%.

Actually, Id like your feedback on this one as its so subjective. Do you think marketing departments, agencies and people in general had more pressure to perform in the face of a GFC? Or were we let off the hook a bit; given an excuse even?

Prediction #3: Facebook will not be sold, Twitter will not be monetised and MySpace will grow at precisely the same rate as the American economy.

Check. Check. Check… Actually, the US economy shrank by an average of 3.2% this year. MySpace either shrank by 20% or grew by 5%, depending on who you ask. I was close though.

Prediction #4: A major Australian corporation will get its first social media marketing officer/director.

Telstra hired Mike Hickinbotham as its social media senior advisor in December 2008, so I was only a month out! There are quite a few others now too, but the Telcos are definitely leading the way.

Prediction #5: Someone you know will be made redundant and start a new web-based consultancy with a misspelled domain name before moving to Northern NSW, assuring you they always had an interest in permaculture.

Hello to my good friend and former Brisbane agency CEO Cos, now at

Prediction #6: The following will officially be declared dead and later discovered to be, in actual fact, alive:

  • Advertising (I think I was guilty of declaring advertising dead by way of social media on a number of occasions, before realising that big-budget brand campaigns really are still a damn effective way of giving credibility to a message people discover via word of mouth. I also think Facebook advertising is pretty much the bees knees.)
  • The American Dream (The news for the US economy and the housing market in particular was dire at the start of 2009, but mid-way through the year things started to turn. Now the country is out of recession, shazam!)
  • Fidel Castro (Dudes still kickin)

Prediction #7: The following will finally be exposed as having been dead since June 2005:

  • Banner ads (Theres still hope.)
  • Kim Jong Il (Not dead, but apparently, according to Wikipedia via the North Korean state media, he is an avid golf fan and routinely shoots three or four holes-in-one per round. Im guessing that God has kept him alive to take from where Tiger Woods left off, so I can be forgiven for being wrong.)

Prediction #8: You will wake one morning to find that Google has bought your competitor and now makes a version of your best-selling product:

  • And it’s better than yours
  • And it’s free

Sucked in And the year aint over yet… Make sure you check for updates.

Prediction #9: Radio. LOL!

I thought it was going to be a funny year for radio, but who knew just how hilarious concentration camps and molestation could actually be!

Prediction #10: You’re not in the car or housing industries are you?

OK, so I was wrong. Damn.

Whats going to happen in 2010? Check out my predictions here.

Top 10 social media marketing tips

Im supposed to be writing an insightful, amusing, introduction to this article to get your attention, but to be honest, if youve come this far youre probably already doing one of three things:

  1. Skipping this (allegedly) insightful, amusing introduction to get to the juicy article goodness below, hoping like hell theres an idea you can, with implied consent, appropriate for your own use.
  2. Re-tweeting the link that brought you here to all your social media nerd friends (its OK, Im doing exactly the same thing).
  3. Quickly skim-reading the page to see if theres anything worth tweeting about. In which case, and just quietly, Id be heading straight to item seven.

Either way, youll have realised that this is not an insightful, amusing introduction at all. Apologies for that, here, instead, is a list of ten brilliant social media marketing ideas and a drawing of a spider.

1. Start a Twitter account and give people incentives to follow you. The more topical the better – it keeps people interested and theyll stay tuned. Like this:


2. Use Google Insights to find whatever keywords related to your business are being searched for the most and watch for trends. Blog about them and make videos about them. Make them entertaining. Watch your web traffic go through the roof. Like this:


3. Become an expert, start a blog and use your knowledge for good. Industry secrets dont exist anymore. If you try and keep them to yourself someone else will trump you. Were operating in a knowledge-based economy. Be the fountain of knowledge, be prolific and people will turn to you, and when they turn to you, you can start relationships with them (you know what I mean, dont be rude). If you cant write, podcast it. If you cant talk, make videos out of it. Make claymation. Do something, dont just sit there hoping people will come to you because you know so much. Publish. Its free.


4. Start a Facebook group that people will want to join and subtly sponsor it. Dont just start a fan page for your business, create a community that people want to be involved in. If you sell surfboards, create a fan page for six foot waves. If you sell wedding photography create a page for people who hooked up with a bridesmaid and are proud of it. If you sell candles start a Facebook group for people who are afraid of the dark. Like this:


5. Figure out whoever the key influencers are for whatever it is youre selling. Read their blogs and leave comments on them regularly. Proper ones. Ones that make them feel loved. Theyll get to know who you are and then when you want to sell something you wont have to make a bunch of new friends. Never forget that the purpose of a conversation with a new friend is not to sell something. It’s to have another conversation. Seth Godin told me that. It doesnt matter what industry youre in, or what youre selling.


6. Follow people on Twitter who talk about things you talk about, but do it in a way that will actually help them. Give value. Make them glad someone like you took the time to follow them and start a conversation.


7. Create something amazing and give people a couple of minutes of internet joy. Unless youre the President of the United States or Paris Hilton, no one cares about your dog or what you had for lunch. Stop putting banal content out there and do something amazing (or something amazingly bad). People love to be entertained, people love to waste time on the internet. Give them a couple of minutes of internet joy. You dont need talent to do this. In fact, the less talent you have, the better.


8. Get people to Digg what you do. All you have to do is ask them and make it easy. There are heaps of free plugins that easily allow you to add Digg This buttons to your articles, website, blogs and goodness knows what else. Take advantage of them and your traffic will go through the roof.


9. Make Lists. Lists of anything. People love lists. You could make a list of the top ten fire hydrants in Surry Hills and as long as you included relevant YouTube videos, people would love it. December to January is prime list breeding season, but dont let that stop you.


10. Read How to Win Friends and Influence People; its the original social marketing textbook. You can buy it online for a cent and it will change the way you think about talking to people, especially if your end goal is to sell something. Unlike most self help books these days, its aimed at professionals, not daytime/late night television watchers. The book was first published in 1937 when personal (read: social) selling, as opposed to television commercial selling, was at its peak. The six ways to make people like you are just as relevant online as they were before:

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a mans name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in the terms of the other mans interest.
  6. Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.

…as long as you can put up with a little period misogyny of course!


TV vs Social Media stats for Hey Hey

The battle between channel nine’s Hey Hey It’s Saturday reunion and Ten’s Celebrity MasterChef attracted a dual analysis: ratings and ‘twatings’.

OzTam recorded a significant audience nearing 2.2 million tuning in to the Hey Hey reunion, while Celebrity MasterChef attracted just shy of 1.4 million. The Twitter analysis reveals an even greater disparity.

Conducted by Dialogix, the company claims there were 22,000 “Hey Hey It’s Saturday” and hashtagged #HeyHey tweets during the show’s airtime. The conversation peaked at 7,000 tweets per hour, juxtaposed with MasterChef’s 1,600. This pushed Hey Hey to Twitter’s number one trending topic.

“Traditional TV ratings give you the number of people who watched a program, but if you measure people who spoke about a show on Twitter you get a better analysis of who actually engaged with the show,” said Matt Granfield, Dialogix director. “The show had more than 200,000 Facebook fans on the day it went to air
and messages were posted on that network alerting people to the fact
that host Daryl Somers had just joined Twitter. Within 24 hours Daryl
had 1,383 followers.”

The Gen Y Translator

Everyone knows the number one rule of social media engagement is to be honest, and everyone knows the number two rule is dont start something you cant finish (as in, dont start a celebrity Twitter account and write in it for two days and then not write anything in it again, because you end up looking like a dick).

In fact, the rules of social media engagement are so well-known these days that pretty much everyone can recite them by heart, even rule number 14a which is:

Dont try and talk like youre Gen Y because youre not, unless you are, and even then you shouldnt be twittering on behalf of the company yet because youre not responsible enough and if you get access to Twitter youll want access to Facebook as well and youll claim its for work but we know, and you know, and we know you know we know that youll end up spending most of your day updating your status, playing Mob Wars and LOLing with your BFFs.

Well to hell with that rule.

For the first time, ever*, thanks to the vivacious, spacious and audacious wit of LOL-linguist-intern-strategists, @anna_goddard and @AnnabelBrusasco, myself, a list of words Dialogix couldnt define and a little too much time, is able to bring you the official GenY LOLspeak A-Z Dictionary of the 65 Most Popular Young Persons Colloquialisms. Or, The Gen Y Translator for short. Rule 14a be damned.

Thanks to The LOLspeak Dictionary even the most moronic of marketing managers can now converse with the kewlest of lolcats. Fire up that Facebook chat window, update your MySpace pic and energise your emoticons, lets start totes talkin!

Oh, and if Ive left off any LOLisms you feel should be included in the next edition, feel free to add them in the comments below…

*As long as you dont count the Urban Dictionary as ever

The Gen Y Translator
Word Definition Example Usage
!!!!! Words cannot express how much I think this is totally amazing OMG!!!!!
@ At
*action* Right now I am doing whatever is between the asterisks This LOLspeak dictionary is going to be out of date before its published but thats kewl. *shrugs*
#fail That didnt go very well at all Did you hear she was trying to get around the world, only made it as far as North Straddie and got hit by a tanker! #sailingfail
aiight Alright A: Sorry I ran over your cat with my car.
B: Thats aiight, it was my sisters cat.
b4 Before
BF, B/F Boyfriend
BFF Best Friend(s) Forever
biatch My dear friend Sup biatch!
boi Boy
brb Be Right Back
BTW By The Way
burn To denigrate At least I wasnt vomiting in the garden! Burn!
CBA Stands for Cant Be Arsed, meaning I could not be bothered CBA going out tonight. Stayin at home watchin Idol.
C-Bomb The worst swear word you can possibly use I accidentally dropped the c-bomb in front of my Mum last night and got grounded for a week.
dats Thats
defs/defso Definitely Defs wanna hit the clubs tonight.
DM Direct Message/Direct Mail OMG the boss is coming, have to get off the phone, DM me!
DW Dont worry
everybunny Everybody
FML F— My Life Today,
my first girlfriend of over 3 years left me for another guy. She said
shes looking for someone who can financially provide for her in the
future. The dude owns a mobile phone kiosk. Im going to medical
school. FML
fo shiz For certain A: Wanna smoke some weed and listen to Snoop Dogg?
B: Fo shiz.
FPP Facebook Profile Picture

You look hot! You should defs make that your FPP!

G2G Got To Go
GF, G/F Girlfriend
Ghost Tweeter Someone
who writes or fine-tunes someone elses Twitter updates because the
person in question is too busy, dumb or unfunny to do it themselves
Thats not really Kyle Sandilands on Twitter. Its a ghost tweeter.
Hellz Yeah Yes, yes indeed And so the cop told me that my party was the most epic party theyd ever been called to… Hellz Yeah!
HTFU Harden the F— Up! A: Really tired hey, dont know if Im coming out tonight.
ish Sort of She was good-looking…ish.
kewl Cool
KK OK, OK A: Can I borrow your jeans tonight?
L8 Late
Laterz Later Bye, Yeah, no worries, laterz
LMAO Laughing My Arse Off
LOL Laugh Out Loud
LOLZ Thats so funny
LOLGASM The climax of a particularly effervescent LOL incident
LOLWAT Disbelief to the point of absurdity
Maggot Exceptionally drunk Going to Jakes house tonight. Going to get MAGGOT!
Mofo A term of endearment between mates. Short for motherf—er
n00b Someone who is new to something, usually in an internet forum
OMFG! Oh My F—ing God! A: She let me sleep with her!
OMG Oh My God!
Owned Defeated
Peeps People
PPL People
QFT Quoted For Truth You said that and we all heard it. QFT
Redic Ridiculous
Redonkulous That is seriously ridiculous
ROFL Rolling On the Floor Laughing
ROFLCOPTER Rolling On the Floor Laughing, spinning around like helicopter blades A: So I was just driving high and I stopped to let a pinecone cross
the road because I thought it was a hedgehog.
Sick Really, really good
Siff As if, that couldnt possibly be true
STFU Shut The F— Up!
Sup Hello, how are you? Or, Whats wrong?
Tomoz Tomorrow A: So I think Im going to break up with her tomoz.
B: No way!
Totes Short for totally, as in, most definitely That comment was totes inapprop.
TTYL Talk To You Later
U You
V Very V.Good
Woot Gamer-talk for woo-hoo I got to the last level on Final Fantasy VII, Woot!
WTF What The F—? The doctor took one look and he was, like, WTF?
XXL Someone with a rotund figure
Yeeeewww/ Yeow/ Yiew An expression of great joy
ZOMG A more sarcastic expression than OMG

Social media jobs (and how to get them)

So you want a job working in social media huh? Living the dream. Playing on Facebook all day and getting paid to do it, tweeting for fun and profit, working from your laptop in exotic locations around the world while you give inspiring speeches at marketing conventions and advise multinational corporations on influencer strategy. Maybe you’re a closet YouTube sensation waiting to happen. Maybe one day your number of Twitter followers will be greater than the number of people you’ve actually met. Maybe one day you’ll find the digerati holy grail and one of your ideas will go… viral.

If you’ve got social media career aspirations, here’s where you could end up, and more importantly, how to get there.

Director of online interactive relationshipmentarianism at a multinational corporation

Job Description: This is it. The biggest, bestest, buzz job in town. Pepsi has one, Coke has one, Ford has one. The CEO and CMO love you because your very existence makes them look cool and you oversee a crack team of minions made up of handfuls of the people on the list below. You spend your days counting your Twitter followers and quoting passages from The Cluetrain Manifesto, which you read and/or wrote 10 years ago before social media was even invented.

How to get this job: Work in marketing for a decade and write a blog that begs attention and belief. Schmooze, arse-kiss, network, know the CEO and be in the right place at the right time. Master the Powerpoint ‘wow factor’ to help you justify social media ROI in your slides. A postgraduate degree from an Ivy League college, a famous white paper and well-connected parents certainly won’t hurt your chances either.

Freelance social media consultant who is a New York Times Best Seller

Job description: These are rock stars of the social media world. Luminaries include Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Brogan, Guy Kawasaki, and of course, Seth ‘God’ Godin. You won’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 and you won’t appear via webcam at a marketing conference for less than $100K. You get mobbed by random social media strategists on the street and people make t-shirts with your name on them. You have more than a million Twitter followers and you run two separate Facebook accounts, one for the thousands of fans and one for both of your actual real-life friends. (Real-life, not second life; they’re different).

How to get this job: Work at a successful dot com company and write an original self-help business book about the experience. You only need one good one, then you can re-work your ideas for the next 20 and just change the cover artwork.

Freelance social media consultant who is not a New York Times Best Seller but has read the New York Times a couple of times, but only the online version, and only to admire the Apple ads

Job Description: You’ve got a blog and you’re not afraid to use it! Everyone, like EVERYONE, like every, like blogger in your city knows who you are and you know heaps about social media and you’ve got lots of opinions and stuff. You’re listed on all the top lists of top bloggers and tweeters and you did some work once with an actual company and you helped them understand that the old ways were gone and different and social media is the new way!

How to get this job: Figure out how to install WordPress.

Social media manager

Job Description: Like a director of online interactive telationshipmentarianism at a multinational corporation, you’re at the pointy end of the career path, but you’re probably a bit younger, the company you work for is slightly smaller and your office, if you have one of your own, doesn’t have a view. Still, you were high school captain, you’re getting paid $90K a year, you’re at a company everyone has heard of and you’re probably kicking some goals and getting some credit for changing the way things are done. You were most likely a marketing manager in the UK in a former life until you were fired for spending too much time on Facebook. You cover this up by telling people it was the GFC (Global Financial Crisis, and/or Geelong Football Club, pick one) that forced you back to Sydney or Melbourne and everyone nods empathetically.

How to get this job: Get a job in marketing in an ASX200 company. Shine. Be the one who knows everything there is to know about social media. Convince the powers that be that that position should be created. Wait for the position to be created. Bang.

Marketing manager who loves social media

Job Description: You saw the writing on the wall years ago when traditional advertising didn’t really seem to be doing anything, nothing you could prove anyway, and you knew this whole social media thing could be an answer. You read Seth Godin every morning with your skinny-latte, you go to every seminar you can find on using Twitter for business and you’ve been blogging since 2008. Most of your day is taken up with charts and meetings and that boring stuff, but you dedicate quite a few hours to the company Facebook page and you wet your pants when you saw this presentation on convincing your boss that social media ROI is about more than tracking impressions.

How to get this job: Graduate top of your class at uni. Score the best internships. Start out as a marketing coordinator, blog a lot. Wait for the marketing manager to get fired or move to London (or hack their Facebook account). Step up a rung. Convince the boss that social media will work. Write blog posts for him. Tweet a lot.

Social media strategist

Job Description: You come up with social media strategies for clients of the agency you work in. Deep down you know they don’t really make any money for the client, but you suspect that one day they might and that helps you sleep at night. If anyone asks any tricky questions you just mumble something about communities and multiply the number of followers your second cousin’s Twitter followers have to create impressive looking reach diagrams.

How to get this job: Be particularly smart, savvy and hassle the right people. Keep a case study on hand at all times and spend at least five hours a day socially networking.

Community manager Job Description: “Exciting new company seeks motive web guru to manage our fantasmic online community of incredibly interesting people who do wonderfully fantastic things. Marketing nous essential and copywriting skills a bonus. You know who you are!”

Actual Job Description: “Company built on venture capital with virtually no chance of actual profitability this side of 2060 seeks redundant marketing/advertising/sales/IT person desperate enough to work for share options and cold Moccona. Tasks include spam management, writing articles that match our list of SEO keywords, getting coffee for the ‘CEO’ before he plays golf (there’s only four employees in the company but he still chooses CEO as his job title of course), selling ads, cleaning, phone-answering and spam management.

Social media intern

Job description: Advising older people on Twitter and MSN lingo. Checking Facebook. Updating Facebook stati. Attending meetings. LOL’ing. Day dreaming. ROFL’ing. Explaining what is and is not cool with the youth market. Blogging. Checking Facebook. Exploring cheap lunch options nearby. Writing a uni assignment on how social media is, like, heaps good. Defending Generation Y’s work ethic by simultaneously arguing about it and changing your Facebook status.

How to get this job: Have some sort of documentation that shows you attend a university every now and then. Point out that the fail you got in marketing strategy doesn’t count because you have a blog. Repeatedly ask nicely until someone caves in.

Social media work experience student

Job Description: Lurk. Smile hopefully and nonchalantly whenever someone comes near you. Practice your ‘I’m so, like, really busy over here’ face while you read B&T and wonder what all the big words mean and what the B and the T mean. Lurk some more. Dream about boys. Update the company Twitter page.

How to get this job: Make sure your dad knows/is someone.

Finding your social media influencers

Go to the bottom drawer in your storage cupboard and dig out an old high school class photo. It can be any year, the daggier the better. Get a non-permanent whiteboard marker out and circle the cool kids (and if you weren’t one of them, now is not the time to pretend, we’re doing important research here). What do you notice? Do they stand out?

I’ll bet they do.

I’ll bet you 50 bucks that even if you went to a strict girls/boys school that allowed virtually no form of unique self expression, the cool kids will stand out like a sore thumb. They’ll have the best looking haircuts (at the time at least), the coolest shoes and the sexiest, most ‘I don’t give a damn’ pouts. They’ll be the best-looking (for the most part), their heads will be tilted at just the right angle. Hell, even their socks will be doing something different.

Now, grab someone else’s school photo, one full of people you’ve never met (use your parents if you can). See if you can pick the cool kids out. You probably won’t score 100% on the test, but I’ll bet you’ll get close.

Cool kids, you see, all stand out. It’s part of being a leader. That’s why generals have more stripes on their shoulders than anyone – so people know they’re the ones to listen to, the ones with the influence.

The internet is a bit like a class photo. You get everyone’s picture of course, but there’s obviously more to being cool than how you look. In high school it’s where you hang out after school that counts. Who you date, how many people came to your birthday party, what sport you play and whether you’re captain of the football team, or captain of the chess club. Funnily enough, that’s exactly the sort of information people store in their online profiles. They may be out of high school, but the information they display next to their avatar can tell you enough about a person to know how likely they are to spread positive word of mouth about your brand.

Here’s the process we use to figure out our client’s key influencers:

Step one: Find the people already talking about your brand

It seems obvious, but the people most likely to spread positive word of mouth about your brand online are the ones who already are. Use a social media monitoring tool to find the conversations and either pay for one that rates sentiment and builds influencer profiles, or do the hard yards and make a spreadsheet for yourself. The more positive – the better. If they’re a massive fan of your brand they’ll be more than happy to spread the word. The same is true for the reverse – if they hate you, they won’t be shy letting the world know. If you can’t find anyone talking about your brand that’s OK, just move on to step two.

Step two: Find the people talking about your competitors

Do exactly the same thing as you did in step one, but change the names of the brands around. Fans of Coke definitely won’t love Pepsi and fans of one football team probably hate another, but they’re still strong influencers for your brand. Like the old saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Step three: Find the people talking about your industry

Social media monitoring applies here too. Use keywords relevant to your industry and find the people discussing the issues you face. People having general discussions about whatever it is you do usually won’t be as compelled to spread the good word about your brand as those who love you (or your competitor), but they’re the next best thing.

Step four: Figure out their social reach

You should have a list of people by now (even if they all have names like Kitty1981 and MrFantaPants). Cut and past their names into column A of a spreadsheet and then write their number of Twitter followers, Facebook friends, MySpace buddies and so on and so forth in the columns to the right. Get on Technorati and write in their blog scores, write down their number of LinkedIn connections and use any other relevant metrics you can find to figure out the raw number of people on the receiving end of their musings.

Step five: Find out who is actually listening to them

Ashton Kutcher has over a million Twitter followers but most of them are probably voyeurs. Just because he says jump doesn’t mean anyone asks ‘how high’? The best way to determine someone’s true influence over their peers depends on the social networks they are active in, how old they are and what you want to get out of them, but here’s a few tips:

  • Use a tool like RetweetRank to figure out how often what they say is quoted by other people
  • If you can see their Facebook profile, look at events they’ve created and see what percentage of their friends accepted invitations
  • Check out their MySpace wall and see how often friends get in touch with them
  • See how many recommendations they have on LinkedIn
  • See how many posts they’ve made in forums, and
  • See how many comments they get on their blog.

A few good social media monitoring tools can do this for you, but they’ll set you back around $1,500 a month. If that’s out of your price range, get in there and start copying and pasting yourself.

Step six: Crunch

Hopefully by now you’ve got goals set out in your social media strategy giving you some directions for moving forward. Figure out where you want to go and then start working out which people on your list of influencers are going to help you get there. If you make ice cream you’ll probably want to get the kids with the most MySpace friends on side. If you’re a professional resume writer LinkedIn is obviously going to bear you more fruit. Deciding how to start involving these people in your PR strategy requires a bit of forethought, but if you remember the golden rule of social media – treat your customers the same way you’d treat your friends – you’ll probably end up with a lot of them. You might even become one of the cool kids.