Monday, June 17, 2013 | Leave a Comment
In my last blog post, I wrote about Bank of America’s effort to bring the human touch back to banking with its video-conferencing tellers. This week, I’m exploring a bank that’s taking the tellers completely out of the picture: prepaid debit card provider Green Dot’s new, entirely virtual bank, GoBank.Though announced in January, I only recently came across this Mashable article describing GoBank’s launch. With a little digging I came to find that GoBank is not the first bank without any brick and mortar locations– Bank of Internet USA, for example, was founded back in 1999 (its tagline is “America’s Oldest and Most Trusted Internet Bank”). But what I find most interesting about GoBank isn’t that it’s online-only. Actually, I’m not even interested in its mobile app or extraordinarily low and often nonexistent fees, which seem to be what most coverage has centered around. The thing I find most striking about GoBank is all of the completely nonessential, but very fun, features it offers its customers.
The very first amenity highlighted on GoBank’s website is the fact that users design their custom Visa debit card with a photo of their choosing. Far from the sports teams or generic beach scene options typically offered by banks or credit card companies, GoBank facilitates direct upload from Facebook, so each card is completely individualized for the customer.
GoBank has integrated a Fortune Teller feature in its app, which gives you a quick thumbs-up or thumbs-down as to whether or not you should make a purchase based on your finances. If a user is wavering on whether or not to buy a new laptop that month, they can plug in a few recurring or anticipated expenses (rent, utilities, gym membership), enter the price of the computer in consideration, and the bank lets them know if they have “enough cents for the purchase to make sense.”
And, my favorite feature GoBank offers is the Peek at Your Balance bar. This tool appears on the app’s front login screen and, without having to input your login information, allows users to do a quick balance check.
While these offerings are all very amusing, and probably features I would use, they raise the question of where entertainment belongs in banking. GoBank’s gimmicky amenities grabbed my attention and made the app look fun to use, but they also made me slightly suspicious of the bank’s legitimacy. GoBank’s objective is to make banking fun and simple, which comes across in all of its messaging and branding– but do cheeky humor and game-like applications belong in an industry as serious as banking?
In the current, staid landscape of the finance industry, a bank with an overall tone that’s casual and playful is an interesting contrast. I will be curious to see if my generation and the next will prioritize user experience over big-bank name recognition and established trust in personal banking. In the meantime, I think all banks could take a page out of GoBank’s book and infuse a little more fun into their image other than just the bowl of lollipops at the front desk.
Lucy Muscarella is an Account Executive at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @lucymuscarella
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 | Leave a Comment
In Jonathan Gottschall’s recent book, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, the author argues that humans are set apart from other animals by their ability to tell stories. This capacity to communicate verbally and craft narratives defines us by making it possible to transfer complex information to one another, cohere as a society around a central theme and to persuade and influence each other. In fact, Gottschall argues that narrative has such a strong power over the human mind that “fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.”
While this fact seems shocking when stated so plainly, it’s actually quite clear when you look at history. Almost all major movements, whether political, economic or commercial, have offered people clearly defined narratives that, just like a good book, they can get absorbed in. And the idea isn’t new. Take Manifest Destiny as an example: unlike many major political movements, it was never clearly spelled out in policy, and existed almost purely as a national narrative – a story driving major real-world results, rather than the other way around. Storytelling applies for businesses as well, for whom a strong story builds brand affinity in a way that nothing else can. Carefully crafting and distributing that story is essential to building a successful brand.
The problem for today’s storytellers, however, is how to craft engaging stories in a media/social media landscape that’s exponentially more populated than ever before. Every year, brands and businesses have to compete with more stories (and, often, entirely new forms of media) for customers’ attention. So how do we keep people interested in the stories we want to tell?
The answer, I believe, is to invite more viewer action. Creating space in your brand’s narrative for a viewer to act, to question or to feel involved engages them and keeps them focused. Think of it this way: your brand’s story should be less newspaper and more video game (or choose-your-own-adventure novel, if you prefer) – if it isn’t designed to elicit frequent viewer input, it’s not having as full an effect as it could. One way to achieve this is to either omit, or not explicitly mention, all the benefits of your product – while a clear explanation of your product’s value proposition is great in a sales environment, building interest in a brand’s story works much better if you leave out some information and let the reader do some digging themselves.
Though this can seem counterintuitive, we have to remember that the best stories often strategically omit information in order to engage the agency and curiosity of the reader. For example, “The following pages will interest you, as they detail the difficulties caused by Anna Karenina’s relationship with Count Vronsky” is a significantly less compelling introduction than “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” All too often, brands take the former approach, focusing solely on fitting in as much information as possible before the reader puts down the magazine or changes the channel; great stories work because they invite the reader in and make them want to turn the page themselves.
Another way to encourage viewer action is to subtly incorporate references to cultural memes that only a certain part of your viewership will understand, and leave the viewers to connect the dots themselves. Everyone has had the feeling of sharing a secret at some point, and creating that for your viewers is a great strategy. I recently had that experience with the latest Volkswagen ad, “Mask.” In it, a man goes into a convenience store wearing a ski mask and, while clearly making the store clerk very nervous, proceeds to buy all his items in an orderly manner. He and his friends then drive off, while the audience enjoys the joke.
What’s remarkable about it is the music playing in the background: it’s famous online as the “Trololo” song. While the full story of the song (which is actually quite interesting) can be found in this article, suffice it to say that it’s the anthem of internet “trolls”: people who perform pranks online for the sole purpose of confusing or frustrating people. I had heard the song many times before, and recognized the clip that was subtly inserted into the TV spot. Because the reference to the Trololo song was not too overt, I felt more connected to Volkswagen when I was able to catch the reference. Most importantly for Volkswagen, I felt like I was in on their joke – and that’s a very valuable feeling for the ad’s target demographic to have.
These storytelling techniques are effective because the human mind is predisposed to search for narrative when presented with information. As a species, we cannot resist the uniquely human need to weave a web of meaning when one is not explicitly presented to us. Giving viewers the space to do so not only makes them more engaged, it also increases brand affinity by making viewers feel like they have helped define what the brand signifies to them. Believe it or not, sometimes there’s nothing worse than giving your viewers a clear, straightforward idea of your product.
Zach Pearson is an Account Executive at Greenough. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_p_pearson
Thursday, March 14, 2013 | Leave a Comment
Brands need a good personality to succeed. When a brand doesn’t present admirable character traits – be it trustworthiness, value, or anything else – it’s not effectively connecting with customers and that could compromise the goals of the business. One of the best investments a business can make is ensuring that its brand identity is focused, clear and precise.
More and more, however, truly successful brands are defined not by what they say about themselves, but what they say about their users. In addition to creating affinity through a solid brand image, businesses need to focus on what their brands say about their customers.
One of the best examples of this is Apple’s post-2001 product line and brands (the iPod, iPad, iPhone and iMac). Beyond being solid, well-designed machines that reliably serve their intended purpose, the “i” line of products purposefully says something about the user’s identity. The “I’m a Mac” series of advertisements illustrate this: while they emphasize product-focused benefits (like ease-of-use, simplicity, etc.), they also quite pointedly define what a Mac user is: relaxed, fun and more productive.
More recently, Lady Gaga (and many others in the music business, as this recent Atlantic article details) have employed user branding to great effect. Gaga’s chosen epithet for her fans, “Little Monsters,” and its accompanying website, have been instrumental in establishing her success. By creating and emphasizing the term “Little Monster,” Lady Gaga makes it easier for fans to integrate themselves into her brand, increasing affinity by allowing users to feel personally connected. Pairing that affinity with the rise of social networking has earned her the number two spot on Twitter, with almost 35 million followers (just behind 36 million Justin Bieber “Beliebers”).
For many companies, trying to implement a brand strategy employed by Lady Gaga sounds somewhat ridiculous; most aren’t in the businesses where end users are defining their personalities by the use of a product. But it’s important to remember that 20 years ago, most computers and electronic devices were considered tools, not personal statements. In fact, Microsoft is a case in point: after two decades branding itself as the reliable and hard-working standard for operating systems, it joined the hardware market with the Microsoft Surface, whose messaging is a textbook example of user branding that says very little about the product itself.
Moving forward, companies need to be aware of not only what their communications say about themselves, but what they say about their end users. To create greater brand affinity, companies will need to identify, provide development avenues for, and communicate with their brand’s “Little Monsters.” It’s time to start thinking about who yours are.
Zach Pearson is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_p_pearson
Wednesday, December 19, 2012 | Leave a Comment
We’ve all seen them… action-packed, special effects-driven movies with empty characters and a vague plot line. These “blockbusters” always leave you wanting more (and not in a good way). And as I see use of video marketing exploding among businesses, I can’t help but worry that brands will fall into the same trap.
According to a 1to1 Media post, videos are 50 times more likely to appear on Google’s first page results than non-video pages, presenting marketers with an immediate SEO advantage. Viewers stay on sites with video five times longer than text-only sites and 80 percent of business execs watch more online content now than they did last year.
So how do companies capitalize on an effective visual storytelling plan without blowing their whole budget on one expensive, effects-driven production?
The right video crew understands the balance between style and substance. They focus on telling a meaningful story and use animations and effects to enhance the original message.
Take Next Step Living for example: This video utilizes one of the hottest video marketing tactics right now (whiteboard video) while clearly conveying the company’s mission and commitment to making New England homes more energy efficient.
On the flip side, Geemmodity’s videos look great, but without any well-written copy to support the visuals, the “how to” productions fail to explain the product and ultimately end up confusing the viewer.
Flashy videos might be a creative way to grab a prospect’s attention, but without a substantial story to tell, even the prettiest productions will flop.
Christine Williamson is a senior consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineDBW
Tuesday, December 4, 2012 | Leave a Comment
Articles about the power of storytelling are popping up in the media constantly these days. From Forbes to Fast Company, it seems everyone is suddenly singing the gospel of storytelling, praising its effectiveness in the communications world. The fact that storytelling is now officially en vogue in the business community is no surprise to us. Storytelling is, and always has been, at the core of everything we do here at Greenough.
We recognize that stories are not only an essential component of branding, but they are also the most powerful means of conveying a message and connecting with people. How do we know? We’ve put the idea to the test. In summer 2012, we conducted our second “Prevailing Storylines Study,” poring over 10 of the most widely read publications, including Forbes, Fortune, New York Times, Time, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. Unlike the last study (conducted in 2008), this time we included a few online-only publications including GigaOm, a leading tech outlet and two prominent blogs, the Green and Tech (Bits) blogs on nytimes.com.
We reviewed more than 1,000 articles over three months, looking for archetypal stories that appear regularly in mainstream media. Once again, we found that most articles fit into at least one of the 10 classic archetypes – or narratives. Here they are in the order of prevalence, along with more background on the study:
Why should this matter to businesses? It shows that business storytelling isn’t just art; there is clearly some science to it as well. Companies looking to tell better stories will be more successful if they understand the prevailing archetypes that seem to resonate with journalists. If media are drawn to similar narratives over and over again, recognizing where your brand fits, and where you want it to fit, is key. That’s precisely the direction we take our clients.
These 10 prevailing storylines are only part of the larger brand storytelling process, but they serve as an umbrella under which we assemble other necessary elements of business storytelling, from news to feature pieces and much more. Great storytelling is far from easy, but it’s much less daunting when you understand that not all stories are created equal. Some resonate more with readers, so naturally journalists return to these narratives as well.
Video: Greenough Puts Storytelling to the Test
Your brand’s story undoubtedly fits into one or more of these prevailing storylines. Whether you think it is a “Best Kept Secret” or “David and Goliath” or anything in between, our “2012 Prevailing Storylines Study” can serve as a guide to help you develop a rich, powerful and compelling brand story to share.
So what’s your brand story?
Andrea LePain is Vice President, Media Relations at Greenough. Follower her on Twitter: @alepain
Friday, October 12, 2012 | Leave a Comment
While Big Bird’s fate – along with that of PBS – has been much discussed in the wake of last week’s presidential debate, a Romney presidency promises many other programs will find their way to the chopping block. One likely victim is the emerging renewable energy sector.
As he promises a path to energy independence that relies on increased gas and oil exploration, former Governor Romney will take an axe to the estimated $90 billion in grants, incentives, etc. designed to bolster the nascent renewables sector. Romney says the country can no longer afford that outlay. Whether or not handouts given to the oil and gas industries for almost 100 years will meet the same fate as clean technology in the Romney regime is still unclear. What is clear now, however, is that Romney’s strong performance (or Obama’s listless effort) has the renewables sector contemplating a new world order in 2013 and beyond.
Are we facing the ‘end of days’ for clean energy after the halcyon years of the Obama administration? Hardly: in just a short few years, we now have rising stars and established players in biogas (see Harvest Power), wind (see Cape Wind), solar (see Next Step Living), energy efficiency (see FirstFuel), electricity storage (see Ambri) electric vehicles (see GM) on so on. There will be casualties undoubtedly as government support is eliminated under Romney’s stewardship. But will we face a wasteland? Is there a path forward in a world where the deck is stacked for entrenched forces? The answer, of course, remains to be seen: clearly, the private sector needs to play a larger role in terms of its investment in clean energy research and market development. Active involvement in lobbying is needed to change the calculus so that externalities – the well-documented impact on health and the environment among others – are included in the costs of carbon-based energy. Easier said than done, I know, but such is the nature of a dynamic market system that even Romney acknowledges needs regulations, albeit far less than the current administration advocates.
We can also take solace in the fact that the prices of fundamental renewable technologies are dropping, a key to survival should all clean tech government funding be dropped. A 2012 white paper by McKinsey & Company highlighted the increasingly competitive solar industry, where the price of solar-PV modules has dropped from $4 per watt in 2008 to less than $1 today.
The report went on to read: “Prices paid for solar are likely to continue to fall, but sales should rise as solar power becomes economically viable for an increasing number of customers. Additionally, because prices for solar-based power are likely to be set by prices for fossil fuels instead of subsidies (which have been falling annually), margins for leading solar players should increase as their costs continue to decline.”
Out of this potential solar wasteland, well-managed companies like GT Advanced Technologies with strong balance sheets are continuously adopting new models and technologies to seize opportunities in solar and other emerging market sectors.
Whatever the future holds in terms of presidential politics, we know the world is not standing still. I’m an optimist: where there is a need, solutions built on innovation, quality and value will prevail. I also believe common sense will rise to the top of the discussion. PBS, the venerable home of Big Bird, receives only $1.35 per person each year in federal funding. We will find a way in our vast education budget to keep our best early childhood education resource, an eight foot tall yellow bird, in homes every day. Likewise, I believe the benefits of renewables – cleaner, healthier and safer (think national security) are abundantly clear: we just need to keep driving those points home to our fellow citizens. Once the overall population understands the necessity of clean energy, the person who sits in our county’s highest office is bound to follow, regardless of his party affiliation.
Follow Phil Greenough on twitter @philgreenough
Thursday, September 13, 2012 | Leave a Comment
If you watched any of the NFL’s opening weekend, you heard a lot of discussion about the league’s big referee strike and saw replacement officials in action on the field. The replacement refs did pretty well – it appeared they didn’t ultimately decide the fate of any games – but that may have been due to good luck more than anything else. An egregious error in the Seattle/Arizona contest could easily have cost the Cardinals a victory if the ball had bounced differently. These officials (most of whom hail from division 2 or 3 college football) will certainly need more than luck to succeed in the coming weeks.
All the officiating talk makes you think: Surely no one tunes in to a football game to watch the referees (except for maybe Ed Hochuli), but now that they’re gone, enforcement of the rules seems pretty darn important. The same can be said for industry regulations, especially in marketing and PR.
People who work in and/or cover marketing don’t necessarily talk glowingly about the FTC, SEC, FDA or other agencies or regulatory bodies that oversee, and sometimes even police, what we do. Remove them, however, and we might be singing a different tune. Imagine if Bureau of Consumer Protection went on strike and the responsibility for enforcing CAN-SPAM suddenly fell to replacement BCP agents who missed some marketing violations and enforced others incorrectly. We wouldn’t be able to get the old regulators back fast enough.
By the same token, marketers – like football players – need to embrace the spirit of regulations rather than just blindly following the rules. If every player on the Jets or Redskins committed a penalty on every play of the game, there’s no way the refs (replacement or otherwise) would be able to call them all, but the game would also become unwatchable. If, on the other hand, players followed the rules to a t, defensive linemen would break through on every pass play and wide receivers would get open with absurd ease. Similarly, regulators can’t monitor every single marketing email, print ad and social media post that goes out, nor should they, but marketers must adhere to the spirit of the rules without sacrificing creativity or edginess.
A thriving marketing industry – like a thriving sports league – functions best when the playing field is level and regulation is balanced with innovation, within reason of course. Taking risks without running afoul of rules (or even industry guidelines) is a fine line to walk in both sports and marketing, but it’s what keeps things interesting, entertaining and engaging (for fans and consumers alike).
Can the replacement refs keep the game fair and entertaining? Let’s hope so (or let’s at least hope for a quick resolution to the labor dispute). Can our industry keep things fair and engaging? I guess that depends on whether we – and the regulators – can stay on top of our respective games.
Jake Navarro is a senior consultant for Greenough. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, April 13, 2012 | Leave a Comment
Each year, when the Boston Marathon rolls around, I feel a renewed sense of pride for the city in which I live. On the third Monday of every April, when elite athletes travel to Boston to compete in the world’s oldest annual marathon, this pride certainly grows stronger and I think, “hey, I live in a pretty cool city.”
Last week I read an article written by the Globe’s Scott Kirsner that reinforced this sentiment, offering up things the Bay State can and should be proud of; not in terms of athletics and traditions, but in terms of technology and innovation. What made the list? Our leadership in life sciences; fostering entrepreneurship; our top notch colleges and universities; our local hangouts, which allow for the exchange of innovative ideas; contribution from big companies such as Microsoft, Raytheon and iRobot and the accomplishments of Terrafugia, the creators of a flying car.
So what about the areas the Bay State needs to work on? Kirsner argued that Massachusetts isn’t creating enough public, economy-invigorating companies, we ignore potentially lucrative consumer-oriented innovation, we make it hard for talented foreign college graduates to remain stateside and we don’t mint enough “angel” investors, who fund cool startups.
As far as the areas in which the Bay State is doing well, a few other areas could have made the list. What about renewable energy and clean technology? Just yesterday, our client Harvest Power, a Waltham-based startup that turns food scraps into energy, received $110 million in series C funding, a milestone that will undoubtedly propel the organic waste industry forward. Or, how about companies like BigBelly Solar which uses solar power to cut waste collection trips by 80%? And, you can’t forget Boston’s robust information technology and cloud computing industry. In addition to the heavy (IT) hitters like EMC and Akamai, cloud start-ups in the Boston area, such as Cloudant, Sonian and Kinvey, are making quite a splash in the industry.
When it comes to innovation, Boston is no Silicon Valley, a sentiment that many Bostonians are probably sick of hearing. But, maybe we don’t want to be Silicon Valley. Massachusetts is a unique area with deep historic roots and is home to many extremely bright individuals. Boston can and should create its own path of innovation, and I would argue that we are already doing this. As Kirsner noted, there are always areas for improvement, but from the work being done to develop breakthrough medical treatments to the conversion of organic waste into energy, we are making great strides just like the marathoners will on Monday.
Jessica Boardman a senior consultant at Greenough. She can be reached via email at email@example.com or follow her on twitter @J_Boardman.
Monday, February 13, 2012 | Leave a Comment
Many of us who work in PR live and die by our smartphones. I know I’m not the only one in my office who keeps mine within arm’s reach 24/7. EMarketer says that 73.3 million Americans now own smartphones. We’re bringing mobile into almost every aspect of our daily lives – we use our phones to shop, make dinner reservations, to date…even our workouts are going mobile.
If you’re one of the countless folks (like me) who’ve sworn to take better care of themselves and stick to an exercise plan in 2012, you could probably use a little motivation right about now. We’re more than a month into the new year, and for many of us, we’ve lost the enthusiasm we set out with on January 1. If you’re already in a rut and need some help to stay focused on your goals, there’s good news – help is as close as your smartphone. You can use your device to force yourself to set a goal, get rid of the excuses and even earn rewards by staying on track.
Here are a handful of apps to help you stay on track to a healthier you in 2012:
Commit to a set number of days per week that you want to exercise…and the monetary price you’ll pay if you don’t. Use the app to check in when you go work out at your gym. If you abide by your pact, you’re rewarded with money, courtesy of the people who didn’t stick to their gym pact.
Strava Cycling GPS (Android, iPhone)
RunKeeper (Android, iPhone)
This advertising-free app uses your smartphone’s GPS to track the stats of your workouts including distance, time, pace, calories, heart rate and path traveled on a map. It also offers audio cues, customized interval workouts and manual entry for treadmills and other cardio equipment.
Fooducate (Android, iPhone)
Calorie Counter (Android, iPhone, Blackberry)
Epicurious Recipes & Shopping List (Android, iPhone)
Amy McHugh is a director, account services for Greenough. Send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @amyemchugh
Monday, February 6, 2012 | Leave a Comment
Having grown up in Boston, I’m hesitant to admit I’m not a huge Patriots fan. So, while I was cheering the team on Sunday night during the Super Bowl, I was not flying off my seat screaming at the television like many of my friends. Instead, throughout the course of the night, I chose to analyze the more important parts of the Super Bowl for me: the halftime show and the advertisements. As far as the halftime show? Here’s the recap: Madonna lip syncs while Ce-Lo Green provides backup vocals and awkwardly dances in a black sequined robe. Overall, it was a valiant effort.
As far as the advertisements, I thought this year’s were fairly average. A few did resonate with me, including the “Etrade speed dating baby” as well as the “Doritos sling baby,” although I don’t think either necessarily created a type of humor or sentiment that hadn’t been done before. This feat was left up to the mighty Coca Cola.
Coke certainly hit the mark with its real-time, social media-optimized campaign. The company’s spots featured two loveable polar bear mascots, one a Pats fan and one a Giants fan in various scenarios including “Catch,” (above) and “Superstition,” both of which were altered in real-time based on how the game was going. The bears were also featured on a microsite CokePolarBowl.com which showed their reactions to the game and even other ads, also in real time. The idea was to drive viewers to the microsite and spur a robust discussion on social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook.
I thought the idea behind this campaign was very creative and well-thought out in that it combined and integrated polar (no pun intended) opposites. By featuring the polar bear mascot, we are brought back to Coke’s roots, its classic feel, consistency and reliability. At the same time, the spot encourages innovative, real-time social media interaction, and we are reminded that Coke is edgy and original; in other words, Coke still knows what’s up. By featuring a Pats polar bear fan and a Giants polar bear fan, the spot played off the intense rivalry felt between the two teams after their last Super Bowl meeting in 2008.
Super Bowl spots from companies like Coke, Acura and the movie Act of Valor were highly effective, and actually, believe it or not, a little too effective. Monday morning it came out that websites from these three companies all crashed during the event due to too much ad-driven traffic. The average 30-second Super Bowl commercial costs $3.5 million plus production costs. So, although these companies certainly hit the mark with their carefully crafted ads, all that work and money poured into the effort could be meaningless when a consumer is unable to access the website for more information.
This situation stresses the importance of not only having a well-thought out campaign, but planning ahead and taking into consideration how essential follow through and reinforcement is. You could spend millions of dollars to develop a really cool, interactive, social-media optimized campaign that no one has done before. But if your website buckles under the pressure, you make a different impression; consumers could walk away with a bad taste in their mouth.
In my view, these companies could have spent a little less on the commercials and instead put a chunk of change into optimizing their websites ahead of time, making sure they would be fast and reliable for the big day, regardless of the number of visitors. Of course this is all in hindsight and it’s certainly hard to predict these sorts of things—but it’s a lesson learned. I’m willing to bet that next year companies will pay a little more attention to website optimization to foster a good user experience, which is equally important, if not more important, than the ad itself.
Jessica Boardman a senior consultant at Greenough. She can be reached via email at email@example.com or follow her on twitter @J_Boardman.