A technique to evaluate big ideas in digital media.
One of my all-time favorite viral marketing campaigns is "Will it Blend?" by high-powered blender manufacturer Blendtec. Since it launched in October 2007, the campaign has generated tens of millions of views on YouTube and catapulted Blendtec from obscurity to near household name status, increasing sales by over 500 percent. And while I don't have any numbers on how much the campaign has cost the company (some have estimated around $2,500 to $5,000 per episode, plus the cost of what's blended), it's still probably less than a lot of brands spend on the production of a single TV ad.
Why has Blendtec been so successful? Its videos - featuring everything from frappe'd iPads to liquefied Justin Bieber swag - address the fundamental question consumers have about its product: Will it blend anything I throw at it better than the blender I have now? The answer - convincingly and humorously demonstrated right before your eyes - is an unqualified "yes!" Sales job complete.
Now, consider the endless debate over Facebook's new features and how they stack up to Google+. Some people love Facebook's changes. Others hate them.
But who's right? Well, that's when Blendtec comes to mind. A simple focus on the product's mission has brought it success. Blendtec blends just about anything. People want a blender that blends. Blendtec blends. Period.
So, what is the essence of Facebook? Do these new features contribute to improving its mission?
These aren't complicated questions. However, as anyone who's been involved in hammering out a mission statement knows, it's easy to get in the weeds when trying to get to the essence of what any company does. But if we stand back and look at Facebook (and social media in general) and ask, "What does it do?" the answer is pretty simple. It connects people to each other. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even said in his recent F8 keynote, "The last five years about social networking have been about getting people connected."
This is the essence of Facebook: it connects people. Sure, there are plenty of other features that come out of that mission - sharing information, building community, etc. - but they're all things that come out of what happens when you provide a platform to connect people together.
So what about Facebook's new features? While it's easy to have an opinion based on your own experience with the site, it's also not all that productive. If you want to be able to evaluate Facebook in a more objective manner, it's a lot more useful to be like the folks at Blendtec and ask "Will it connect?"
Using this question as a rubric for evaluating new features allows you to take a more objective look at what Facebook's doing. Consider these related questions:
Ask, "Will it connect?" and you'll have the answer.
But the "Will it blend?" technique of evaluating digital media goes far beyond just settling arguments with your coworkers (or Facebook friends) about Facebook's new features. It's a powerful technique for evaluating anything you do in the digital space.
First, you need to examine the core essence of the medium you're looking at. What does it uniquely do that other media don't do? Why is it different? Forget about the technology of the moment, forget about the nuance. What does it do that other media don't do? What is its essence?
It's easy to get in the weeds about this, so here are some suggestions to get you started:
There are nuances that can be applied to each category. And many categories allow for cross-pollination and recombination (look at mobile social media apps, for example). But each one (and others not listed here) does something that the other doesn't do and does something that makes it better for applications that take advantage of its unique features. And things that take advantage of that unique "something" are the ones that are going to ultimately succeed.
Let's take a look at the top 10 categories of apps used by smartphone users who download apps as reported in Nielsen's "Social Media Report" for Q3, 2011:
OK. What's the essence of "mobile" as a medium? I've defined it as "helping people do stuff when they're out and about in the 'real world.'" Is this true? Well, what do people do when they're not sitting at home or at work? Why do people go out? They go out to eat, shop, dine, entertain themselves, work, see other people, and run errands for the most part. And sometimes they have to wait while going from one place to another.
So go back and look at Nielsen's top 10 list of mobile apps. What do they have in common? Simple: they all make our lives easier when we're out and about. Games and entertainment apps entertain us when we have to wait. Knowing the weather helps us prepare for going out. Mobile social networking apps help us connect with people no matter what our physical location. Navigation apps help us get from one place to the other, and so on.
These categories of mobile apps top the list because they answer the essential needs of anyone who's "mobile." Facebook dominates the social media landscape because it connects people better than the competition. Google crushed its search rivals because it helped people find stuff in a better way. You get the picture. The core lesson is this: success comes from being the best at helping people do what they want to do by leveraging the essence of the medium they're using.
Next time you get a big idea (or need to evaluate someone else's), sit back and ask yourself: "Will it blend?"
Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.
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