From the uprising and liberation of countries in the Middle East to the heart wrenching earthquake / tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, the role of social media and mobile technology has become inextricably woven into our daily lives. The tipping point came in mid-2007 when social media really started to take off while at the same time smart phones exploded onto the scene. For marketers, tapping into this new “engaged audience” has been a windfall for some while problematic and baffling for others.

The key is to step back from traditional marketing principles by being helpful, genuine and offering a worthy experience while allowing the consumer to generate the buzz.

Social media’s appeal has stemmed from the fact that it is user-generated content that can be both personal and broad based. When social media was embraced by huge numbers of online individuals and communities it occurred so fast that even today many businesses are still trying to figure out what to do. Those businesses that recognized the true potential of social media quickly understood that by offering worthy content, valuable insight and being accommodating have resulted in creating loyal customer communities.

As we now know, the success of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have fulfilled a need for meaningful connections. And it’s no accident that the popularity of the smart phone and its numerous apps have accelerated this change. People are now connected 24/7 and can do everything from choosing where to eat, to buying books, insurance and music, to playing Angry Birds and just about everything else. It has been an evolutionary process where the best ideas, services, apps and businesses have survived and flourished while those that haven’t measured up have been discarded and largely forgotten.

Users have All the Power

For businesses still trying to figure out how to navigate and succeed in this environment they must accept the fact that first and foremost social media is a ground up medium. Users have all the power.

As Jamie Monberg stated in Fast Company, “today’s consumers are stingier with their brand loyalty than in the past because they can afford to be: they are burdened only by an abundance of choice and knowledge.” To enter this arena wisely is to provide a genuine experience and/or credible content that users will embrace and gladly promote. Being overtly commercial is a sure path to being discredited.

Monberg makes this point exactly. “Today, any brand has a potential army of credible, unpaid spokespeople that are willing to work on its behalf. And this army is the exact same group of people who are willing to work against it.”

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In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a new trend emerging with online advertising that’s more content focused and more in tune with the idea of conversing with the viewer rather than the standard practice of overt one-way advertising.

The reason is simple, most of us have learned how to ignore online banner ads and those annoying animated ads that jump out at us as we click on a new page. Most people hate these ads and all of the obstacles that prevent us from immediately accessing the content we are seeking.

As Chris Anderson, curator from the non-profit group TED, recently stated, “online ads are not adding anything to our web surfing experience. Rather, they are annoying us, boring us, and even enraging us.” Instead advertisers should be seeking to join the online community by sharing information and providing worthy content as well as joining in the conversation.

“We’re moving toward a future where advertisers and consumers are part of the same community, sharing ideas and engaging in a learning cycle, together,” Anderson continued and went on to advocate that advertisers should create ads that are worth spreading.  “We (at TED) want to encourage development of ads-with-a-difference… that engage our audience authentically, intelligently and delightfully. Ads that people will want to share because they encapsulate ideas worth spreading.”

This idea isn’t new. The 25-year tradition of the highly anticipated Super Bowl ads may well fit into this category of engagement where viewers actually look forward to seeing the commercials. It makes one ask why advertisers don’t create worthy TV spots all the time?

Non-Traditional Advertising Methods

At any rate, the idea now is to become part of the conversation. Advertisers need to engage prospects with credible content that isn’t overt, intrusive or just blatant in-your-face advertising. Those marketers that succeed in this evolving arena will likely be embraced by viewers and may ultimately create loyal consumers as a result.

A couple of months ago Science Creative posted an article on Danny MacAskill’s amazing bike riding videos that were sponsored by Red Bull, VW and other advertisers who sponsored his breathtaking stunts. This form of advertising is low key where the advertiser isn’t prominent during the spot. The talent is the content which is what attracts viewers and in-turn, makes the video go viral. The product/brand association with Danny’s talent is subtle but effective simply because it’s deliberately set in the background.

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Why is it when we’re in the midst of a “crisis” we tend to think this event is somehow unique in human history? At first there is a tendency to panic and then, after way too much hand wringing, the vast majority of people eventually pick themselves up and move on.  It’s only years (or months) later with the benefit of hindsight that historians are able to clearly see who the innovators were based on their courage and ultimate success while the rest flailed about in fear of change.

This scenario could easily be about politics, war or business since a “crisis” is often the result of a human endeavor that involves similar emotions, reactions and ultimately – solutions. In this case the subject matter isn’t about the auto or banking industry or the even the manufacturing sector that’s under siege, instead it’s about the advertising industry. At this very moment, while many insiders are worrying about their agencies, a few brave souls are charting new paths to success while also employing basic principles that still work.

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Do popular brands help define who we are? Do they help provide the visual and iconic clues that define an era or specific moments in time? And do brands need to stick to one image or campaign in order to be successful as representations of moments in time?

Brands that stand the test of time are the ones that are fully ingrained in consumers’ minds. Al Ries of Advertising Age recently wrote an excellent article that argues, “Once a brand is established with a clearly defined marketing position, the brand’s owner should ask a fundamental question before making any significant changes. Why tinker with success?”

Mr. Ries also states, “the way to build a brand is with a consistent message over an extended period of time.” The end result of creating a consistent message is what’s known as building brand equity. Brand Equity is created over time through marketing, PR, advertising and more recently social media, and is constantly reinforced by gentle or sometimes over-the-top reminders (ads) that together serve as a ubiquitous force that’s woven into our collective conscience. In other words, we become so familiar with the brand that we recognize it as being a normal part of popular culture and our everyday lives.

As Colin Drummond so eloquently wrote in his blog Brands Belong in Culture, Not Categories:

A brand’s true usefulness is in how it helps us to participate in culture… brands represent aspects of today’s America: modernity, hope, intelligence, optimism, blindness and decay. These brands are culturally useful to us when we use them or even just have an opinion about them. Because our association with them says a lot about who we are. Significant brands are never just relevant to a category, they contribute to culture at large.

Marking Time with Familiar Brands

Familiar brands from Apple and IBM to Kellogg’s and Colgate-Palmolive often form the backdrop to our daily existence and over time become the icons that help define the present and our past. As Science Creative‘s blog mentioned in an earlier post on technology, “look at any old photograph and it’s the clothes and “products” around the subjects that truly dates the photo.”

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SEE THIS ON SCIENCE CREATIVE

Picture yourself living a middle class life at the beginning of the last century. Let’s say the year is 1904. The times feel modern and technology is rapidly expanding and seemingly improving our lives.  Amazing things are happening in this new century, back on December 17, 1903 the Wright brothers actually flew an engine-powered aeroplane – magnificent! Later, in 1904 a Canadian by the name of John E. Kennedy would define advertising as “salesmanship in print”. This would ensure from that point onward, new technology would be marketed as a product or benefit that every consumer needed – now.

The onslaught of new fangled technology such as radios, the new Gillette safety razors, vacuum cleaners and even Crayola Crayons had to be marketed and the public was soon immersed in the wonderment of being able to consume and live the life of modernity.

Back then there was a sense of excitement and a feeling of anticipation with the introduction of each new technological marvel. Because so much of what was becoming available could hardly have been imagined only the year before it was a magical and incredible time.

Of course marketing and advertising helped promote this “idealistic world” that new technology offered in ever-growing abundance. Over time consumers became accustomed to the “what’s new” marketing formula. As a result, what was once “new and incredible” soon became old, dated and years later would stand as a marker of history. Look at any old photograph and it’s the clothes and “products” around the subjects that truly dates the photo.

As the 20th century progressed and wars came (which accelerated technological advancement), marketers and advertisers continued to promote an ever-growing variety of “New” consumer goods with technological advancements that were always remarkable.

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It’s not surprising that more and more professionals and small businesses are working remotely. From the home office to local coffee shops, airports, hotels and beyond, today’s mobile technology has allowed for routine day-to-day business and even making big deals to occur where ever there is WiFi, some java and a comfortable seat.

In a recent Fast Company article the dilemma faced by StarbucksPanera Bread and other WiFi enabled coffee shops and restaurants is that more and more professionals are plunking down for hours on end and essentially setting up their office to conduct business four to five days a week. According to the FC article, “seventeen million to 26 million people work remotely at least some of the time depending on how you calculate it. And the figure will only swell as companies look to cut costs and workers increasingly eschew desktop computers for mobile technology.”

What used to be the sole domain of aspiring students and freelance creatives is now being shared by sales people, accountants and professionals of all stripes either working individually or meeting in groups – all with theiriPads or laptops plugged in and connected to everywhere.

The “out-of-office work environment” is also, in many cases, losing the bricks and mortar of the traditional office  space all together. In the realm of advertising and marketing agencies, cloud advertising is starting to become more and more common as clients are looking to save and agencies are now able to provide great service and marketing solutions without the added costs of infrastructure and overhead. SCIENCE CREATIVE is a prime example of this new successful business model.

We see the trend continuing as long as clients are receiving great service, competitive pricing and of course superior results. It will also be a must for coffee shops to cater to this growing business crowd by offering special deals, more outlets and greater convenience in order to create a loyal following of regulars.

This article is also on the SCIENCE CREATIVE blog site.

These days, when one thinks about clean energy, solar and wind power most likely come to mind first while geothermal and wave power may not be too far behind.

However, the other growing source of clean energy that is plentiful, available and producing jobs is Biomass Energy. Right now its proponents are working hard towards making the industry a major player in the clean energy sector.

Until recently, the emerging biomass industry has been somewhat below the radar in the public realm. One may ask why the mass media hasn’t promoted biomass as a major renewable energy source as they certainly have done when showcasing solar and wind energy.

Recently, Science Creative contacted Richard Madeira, Vice President of Enginuity Energy in Pennsylvania. He offers an explaination, “One reason may be that biomass fuels just aren’t sexy and the sector itself isn’t as well organized as the others. However, once people sit down and learn the facts, they always say – ‘Wow’!”

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After a slow start into the first six months of 2010, solar energy is on the rise – at least on Wall Street.

According to a recent Barron’s article, the solar industry in general is on a more firm foundation than the Street generally believes.

Could there also be something else at work that has raised the profile of solar energy as a viable and mainstream clean energy alternative?

With the ongoing environmental and economic disaster of the Gulf oil spill, solar energy has quickly moved back into the global conversation about energy options. Look no further than the World Cup.

In our June 12th article about the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the record numbers of viewers around the globe, we pointed to Yingli Solar, a leading solar energy company, as an up-and-coming advertiser who recognized the branding and strategic opportunity of the World Cup to introduce the company and brand with on-field advertising. After investing $20 million for 64 games and gaining worldwide exposure in TV, online and mobile audiences, the six-year old company now has the eye of a major investor.

As reported in The New York Times, “The World Cup is a fantastic platform to get our name out,” according to Robert Petrina, managing director for the Yingli Green Energy Americas division of Yingli who likened the growing interest in soccer in the United States to the growing interest in sources of renewable energy like solar panels.

Our company is well known in the industry we’re in and has grown to be one of the best-known brands in the space. But to move to the global stage is a massive step. The decision was made with the input of all the various offices around the world,” he added, which include Madrid, Munich and Rome — located in three soccer-mad nations, it should be noted.

Over 64 games, the $20 million investment equates to $312,500 per game. Considering that FIFA officials expect to exceed a cumulative 26 billion people, an average of approximately 400 million viewers per match, and factoring the additional online and mobile audiences, both the company and solar energy industry gained exposure. For Yingli, the investment has already achieved even more with a commitment of $5.3 billion to expand its manufacturing operations.

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Recently, the marketing departments in a few savvy companies have quietly been adding social media positions that didn’t even exist a few short years ago. From small start-up companies to large corporations, the social media expert has now become a highly sought after employee (or team) to engage the online/mobile customer. The marketing function now includes systems and processes to accommodate the rapidly growing two-way conversations that are taking place with the customer. In many cases it’s become a vital path to ensuring the company’s brand stays intact in the eyes of the consumer as well as being an effective marketing channel.

The July/Aug 2010 Harvard Business Review states “these days anyone with a smart phone, [iPad] or a computer can inflict lasting brand damage.” That’s because consumers have quickly become well informed and eager to use the online forum to speak out where they will be seen by thousands (and potentially millions) of people who may be easily swayed.

The same HBR article provided a pertinent example about how “popular mommy blogger Heather Armstrong was so upset over the failure of her Maytag washer and the company’s ensuing service missteps that, using her mobile phone, she told her million-plus followers on Twitter they should never buy a Maytag.” Science Creative also reported in our article that “today’s social media moms rule the social web withFacebookTwitterMySpaceBeboFriendFeed and more” – and they have the ability to make a difference with the way a company conducts its business and how it treats its customers.

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As mentioned in my previous post on Eco-Friendly packaging, the question was asked, “how can we develop the most cost effective packaging solutions that will fit into the design, marketing and functional needs?” Well, a big part of that equation comes in the form of plastic. Plastic has been great for consumers and without a doubt, has allowed human kind to progress beyond anyone’s predictions.

However, today we are literally choking on the stuff and we need to find alternatives and more ways to recycle and reuse ASAP.

In this post we will provide examples of some businesses currently recycling conventional plastics as well as those who now using, or are beginning to explore, biodegradable plastic as an alternative. In addition, there are those who advocate a shift in the way we do business which may also be a part of the answer to realizing new business models that are profitable and environmentally responsible.

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