Joe Barber sits down with Lifelounge Group CEO Dion Appel to extract some valuable insights into leveraging SoLoMo.

 

Social networking and mobile web use are no longer the new kids on the block. They have integrated themselves into our lives and their influ-ence is both powerful and lucrative. We let our social (So) networks influence our decisions, our location (Lo) determine what we should be doing and use our mobile (Mo) devices to keep connected 24/7. Combined, SoLoMo means we have a new paradigm in the exciting digital landscape. Big brands are jumping on board, creative thinkers are bringing ideas to life and people are more active than ever before. The frustration for many here in Australia is that we look over ‘the pond’ to the US and see innovation in technology and evolution in consumer behaviour, with little understanding of how that translates to our own backyard. So I set out to find some successful Aussies, who are squarely in this space, and try and extract some valuable insights, statistics and observations that can help guide how best to leverage our local markets and make the principles of SoLoMo work for brands here in Australia.

Over the last 12 years, Lifelounge Group CEO, Dion Appel, has achieved some extraordinary success and has been able to deliver great results for brands like CUB, MasterCard, Schweppes, Nissan and the TAC. For Appel, it’s all about connecting with the youth market and delivering these brands’ products and services that cut through the noise and connect with their audience. I’ve been in mobile and technology ever since trading in my pager for a Motorola StarTAC flip phone (around the time the wheel was invented according to my kids), yet I still find Appel’s commentary very interesting and enlightening.

Some quick background: his portfolio under Lifelounge Group includes the vine.com.au, lifelounge.com.au, and the company’s newest endeavour, Everguide, the ‘ever-growing, never-sleeping’ entertainment guide. Everguide leverages the guiding principles of social, local and mobile to deliver the ultimate digital events guide.

Where did the idea for Everguide come from? What were the influences and inspiration?

“A digital events guide had been in the pipeline for a few years, but discussions became serious just over a year ago. We arranged a planning session and discussed how mobile technology like iPhone apps with geo-location services, and social media tools like Facebook were changing the way young people discover who and what is around them. We realised there was a big gap for mobile and online services that connect people with their social environment. We didn’t have much competition in this market and, with our experience in building lifestyle brands, we decided timing was spot on to give it a crack. We launched Everguide exactly one year ago.”

What were the objectives at the beginning? What did you know when you started?

“Right from the start we knew we wanted Everguide to be more of a content curator, not a content aggregator trying to be everything to everyone. Our main objective was to create something editorial with a unique voice, not just an event aggregator with a stylised front end. We had learned from our success with lifeounge.com.au and thevine.com.au that our market is wary of content that is not authentic, so all our content is sourced and written by Everguide editors, contributors and trusted users.”

What are the key behavioural patterns you’ve noticed in terms of social, location and mobile over this first year? Anything that’s surprised you?

“We’ve learned that there is no such thing as oversharing! Between Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest and several other social networking tools, the details of our users’ lives are documented, commented on and put out there in ways that are continually changing. When you layer into that the profound experiences people have when attending events, the sharing, and the content shared, becomes that much more powerful. I guess it’s not that surprising, but people are very passionate about the artists they like and very keen to share their opinions!

“We’ve also noticed that it’s not just the way in which our users share content that’s changing, but also when. Everguide’s users are always mobile, but they become more so towards the end of the working week. We start to see increases in mobile usage on Thursday that peak on Saturday and Sunday. Then, when Monday rolls around, everyone’s back at the grind reliving the good times by spotting themselves in photo galleries from the weekend’s festivities.

“These patterns have emphasised to us the importance of SoLoMo. While other brands have been able to provide locations, they’ve also tried to be everything to everyone. So they lose the social and personal element and you become just another number as opposed to a member.”

What have been the key learnings over the first year? Anything you’d do differently? Have you changed your approach at all?

“The most important thing we’ve learned is that people are becoming more discerning about how they want to be communicated with. A brand or service needs to resonate with them and be authentic, because once they go, they’re gone. So you really only get one chance with this audience and as such it’s important to us to emphasise that we’re kind of in this together.

“We’ve learned that artists like David White and naturalists like Sir David Attenborough create a lot of conversation both on the site and through social media, which even surprised us! Big tour announcements and news surrounding major artists have ripple effects that resonate across all media, particularly online. We’ve learned to not only anticipate these effects, but to prepare for them by creating relevant associated content to maintain our status as a trusted source. We’ve also become very engaged with our Facebook fans and Twitter followers. We feel that creating conversations with our audience is so much more valuable than just throwing information at them. The beauty of running an online and mobile business is the ability to immediately respond to these conversations, even the surprising ones. It goes back to being authentic.”

I’ve written a few times about the ability to leverage Facebook and Twitter for brands and the dangers of using them as nothing more than a distribution channel for self-serving advertorials. Appel’s comments highlight the need to ‘create conversations’ with consumers and not fall back on old practices of boring information feeds. There has in fact been a huge groundswell in the US of companies that now specialise in outsourced social media services to maintain the active conversations through Twitter and Facebook. The growth of Everguide is evidence how a complete communications strategy that is connected, not dictatorial, works.

Everguide launched with some key partners/sponsors on board. How were these relationships structured and what have been the key benefits for CUB, Nissan, Schweppes and MasterCard?

“The benefit for our partners here is it delivers our audience to their place of purchase. To give you an example, say one of our audience members wants to attend a live music event. They find the event on Everguide, use the link to purchase tickets using their MasterCard Debit Card and, once they arrive, head straight for the bar to buy a Strongbow and Pure Blonde.

“This is something that a lot of brands, especially in FMCG, aspire to achieve. It’s incredibly important because social media as part of a marketing strategy must add value to the business. Everguide provides a solution to sponsors by monetising that transition without alienating our audience and, ultimately, their buyers.

“Another way we deliver value is by truly integrating these brands into our site. We have a lot of expectations to live up to, and we know our audience doesn’t respond well to blatant, inyour-face advertising.

“We take care with all of our sponsors to deliver an integrated approach that associates their brands with music, entertainment, the arts and cultural events happening throughout the country. We understand marketing through our Lifelounge Agency business and know how to incorporate a brand strategy into content, which ultimately drives the greatest outcome for all parties.”

How do you define integrated marketing? What works and what doesn’t? What’s the secret of getting this right?

“Integration essentially means to become one, and it is this principle that guides our integrated marketing approach. Any site can take a sponsor’s money and put up display ads. But that is no longer enough or effective. Well, not in our world anyway.

“So Everguide actually sets budget aside for co-branded initiatives with our partners. We are in each other’s WIPs (works in progress) and strategy planning sessions and we’re actually spending money marketing these cobranded initiatives. You only usually see that type of association in sponsorships where there are naming rights involved.

“Integration works for us because we don’t want to be just another digital business. With truly integrated content, it’s a no brainer – our partners’ success is Everguide’s success. The more traffic we can drive to co-branded initiatives, the better brand acceptance is for our partners and the better brand engagement is for Everguide.”

How will Everguide grow?

“There is huge growth in ticketing and in working closely with venues and promoters. On average, 40% of ticketed events go unsold, which represents a large number of unsold tickets. There are also upwards of 18,000 licensed venues around the country. This is where SoLoMo really comes into play, because through the right services you can engage consumers within a radius of venues and drive them in with a promotion.”

The recent release of the Lifelounge Urban Market Research report for 2012 also indicates that although they have a youthful edge, people from a broader lifestyle group are also using Everguide. This demonstrates that the active connected consumer is not restricted to just the youth market any more.

What advice do you have for brands, agencies and media buyers trying to engage with an audience through mobile?

“The best way to think of it is like taking a call from a trusted friend versus a complete stranger. You may answer, but based on the experience you’ll very quickly determine whether to stay on the line and to accept future contact. As a marketer, when you deliver content and information that is personal, relevant and accepted by the intended recipient, you maintain value. The minute you move away from that, you’re done. Chances are that your app won’t be used or the push notifications will be turned off. SMS acceptance will be reversed, and you’ve most likely lost any future engagement with the user. It’s like the best restaurant in the country serving one bad oyster; you’ll never go back.

“So it’s important to keep it personal and to respect that the mobile phone is the most personal device we own. It’s a big deal to ask that someone engage with your brand through such a personal medium. By giving you their mobile number or activating push notifications, the user is trusting you to deliver valuable information based on their preferences and your editorial guidance.”

It is still amazing how many brands start the engagement and then abandon, leaving the consumer almost hanging in anticipation. Two recent ‘unnamed’ mobile campaigns integrated with other digital channels commenced the engagement and then completely ignored the followup. It’s almost like their sole objective was to give away product instead of using the giveaways to drive a greater relationship and brand affinity with the consumer.

The Lifelounge Urban Market Research has just been released. What are the key findings?

“Anyone who takes a ride on public transport can tell you that we are increasingly turning to mobile technology to communicate with each other and share our lives. As little as five years ago, we were still staring at passing traffic through grimy train windows. Now we’re chatting live on Facebook, playing Angry Birds and sharing pictures on Pinterest and Twitter. These trends represent a significant shift in cultural behaviour and will dramatically alter marketing strategies across the board. Everguide recognises this and is very responsive to the statistics.

“66% of people surveyed have a smartphone, 60% of those phones are iPhones. The proliferation of smartphones has completely changed the way we get information and when. We no longer have to wait until we’re sitting at a desktop. By the time we get to work on Monday morning, we’ve caught up on all of our emails, tweeted about how much we dread Mondays and uploaded pictures of the weekend’s antics. When asked what makes you the sort of person you are, the three most important answers were ‘the experiences I have’, ‘my friends’ and ‘the music I listen to’. This is evidenced by the fact that 42% attended a major music festival influenced largely by the line-up and 30% find out about festivals and gigs using listings and ticketing platforms.

“Facebook is the number one website at 48% market share, well ahead of Google and YouTube at 18% and 17% respectively. It is also the most popular app. To us, these figures signalled the importance of ensuring that our digital platforms are just as good as our smartphone apps. However, because 80% of Everguide’s mobile traffic comes from iOS devices, we are enhancing development there and expanding beyond to capture more market share.”

Maybe it’s a niche gap left over from MySpace or incredible insight into how to create a compelling experience for users, connect, maintain and then embrace dialogue with them. The experiences of the major supporting brands demonstrates we can step up and innovate mobile engagement models and not just apathetically implement hybrid overseas campaigns that fail to adapt to Australian consumer behaviour. Many thanks to Appel and the team for their open discussions and enabling me to share the insights.

 

Joe Barber
BY Joe Barber ON 10 May 2012
Joe Barber is a 25 year veteran of technology companies with the last five years focussed on mobile and retail. He is currently CEO and founder of Edge80.com with other notable start-ups under his belt being Third Screen Media, Sniip and Planet Internet. Joe has lived and worked in the US, Malaysia and parts of Europe and talks at numerous trade events worldwide.