Lessons to learn from Blekko and T-Shirt marketing

You may or may not have heard about a relatively new search engine named Blekko – and fortunately it doesn’t matter hugely in the context of this post. If you’re interested in playing around with data and search, then it’s definitely worth checking out, but the important thing for this article is in the picture:

Free T-Shirt sent by Blekko

It’s a picture of a T-Shirt sent to me by Blekko. I can’t remember where I first saw their offer mentioned (Possibly Reddit), but if you emailed them via an address listed on their blog, they offered to send a T-Shirt and a cool little trading cards booklet which I can’t find to photograph right now. And shortly afterwards, they created Blekkogear, which continues to offer shirts and trading cards to anyone that emails them.

How lovely and fluffy right?

Isn’t that lovely? A nice free T-shirt – and they’re one of those rare companies that actually sends things outside of the U.S as well! But it’s not really marketing is it – it’s not like a homepage advert on a big website or investing thousands in a PPC campaign.

Wait a minute – there’s ROI here:

Now the team at Blekko might just think it’s a nice thing to send out shirts, or they might be doing it because they realise there’s a lot of value in it – or it might be a mixture of the two. Either way, it’s worth considering what costs and returns they might be getting. In terms of costs, the T-shirt design may have been an internal thing, or it might have cost them some cash, say $500 for the sake of this exercise. And each T-shirt with the image would be say, $20 on average using print-on-demand to avoid overstock, with say $10 for shipping each time (I have no idea of postage costs in the U.S, but in the UK, I’d guess it’d be probably £2 for a domestic parcel).

And let’s imagine that as Blekko, the Blekko blog, and the places it was shared are quite techy, they get 200 people enquiring about a shirt.

So that’s:

  • Design: $500
  • Shirts: $4000
  • Shipping: $2000

Total spend $6500.

That seems like a lot of dough for 200 T-shirts doesn’t it?

But wait a second…

They’ve let the offer percolate amongst a techy crowd, which is exactly the core market for Blekko – if it’s going to go mainstream, it’s most likely going to do it with the earlier adopters actively advocating and teaching others about it, as it will have to battle some change intertia to move people away from Google or even Bing, which have a ‘traditional’ search engine and also lots of brand recognition/advertising budget.

Say 25% of the T-shirt recipients are like me and have a blog. They’re not necessarily A-list bloggers, and they’re chuffed enough to post an article with a link to Blekko and Blekko gear. That’s 50 blog posts, and links – depending on the site, paid links can be somewhere between $50 and $200 judging by the going rate on various sponsored post and linkbuying services and the enquiries I regular see being pitched to a variety of bloggers (And in sponsored posts etc, those links are meant to be ‘nofollowed’ – the voluntary ones to Blekko are ‘Dofollowed’, which is handy). So that’s potentially about $10,000 worth of links.

I’m not a heavyweight tech blogger, and tend to be somewhere above average on most of the ranking services I’m registered on – e.g. AdAge, Technorati, Wikio, PostRank etc, etc. So knocking a little off my average article views, you’re probably looking at circa 10,000 page views targetted at the tech/marketing audience Blekko want to reach. Put that at a CPM of say $10, and that’s another $100, before we look at how the offer has spread via social networks, social sharing sites, and other word-of-mouth routes.

Then there’s the offline impact. I hang out with a lot of people involved in digital businesses, and I’m quite likely to be wearing the Blekko shirt on some of those occasions – if people haven’t heard of the name, like any normal geek, they’ll ask about it, and not only see the name, but get my quick take on what it is and does. And odds are, they’ll decide not to just take my word for it and have a look themselves. Coincidentally, the T-Shirt has arrived just before the Digital People in Peterborough Curry Night, so that’s 16-20 geeks.

And then there’s the fact that although I’ve heard the name and taken a quick look at some reviews of Blekko (and spend a quick bit of time playing), I still ahven’t really sat down and worked out exactly what it could do for me. But having received the T-shirt, I may not consciously think of it as a bribe, but it’s made me think nicely of the company, and every time I see it, I’ve got a visual reminder that I saved a load of Blekko information and intended to sit down and work through how I could utilise it effectively. With limited time in the day and countless startups appearing in my RSS feed that get filed for the mythical ‘when I get some spare time’, that visual reminder makes all the difference. I don’t know what the lifetime value is of a new user for Blekko, but say it’s $20. Out of the initial 200 T-shirts, they’re likely to convest a fair amount – say 20%, or 40 people. And from online and offline interactions, those people will probably spread the word to say 100 people (Average number of Facebook friends is 150 as an example). That’s 4000 additional people, and if 5% like Blekko, that’s another 200. Without going to the next degree of Kevin Bacon, we’ll say that’s 240 new users with a lifetime value of $4800.

So quick maths time:

Remember the costs?

  • Design: $500
  • Shirts: $4000
  • Shipping: $2000
  • Total spend $6500.

And the benefits?

  • Linkbuilding: $10,000.
  • Equivalent CPM ads: $100
  • User lifetime value: $4800
  • Offline recommendations: How much would you value someone’s friend recommending your product?
  • Total: $14,900.

$8400 of benefits already, so why aren’t more companies doing it?

Really rough calculations without getting into Blekko’s business model, accurately looking at social media sharing and recommendation values etc, but you probably get the message, and I save the calculations to decimal places for paying clients… But that not only leaves the question of why more companies don’t allow for offers like this, and limit their giveaways to conferences, trade shows or to members of the traditional press (Conference freebies end up as noise unless they’re really special – and traditional mainstream press still appreciate free schwag but are a bit more jaded than most people).

Even worse – how have I managed to work with a load of brands that have somewhat iconic status amongst their fans, to the point where fans are potentially willing to pay to advertise that company, and yet the opportunity isn’t taken because no-one ever gets around to it? And that’s ignoring the concerns about the brand identity, and what happens in someone undesirable wears our logo etc.

If you’re trying to be ultra-exclusive and maintain your desirability that way, then you might not want to be letting just anyone into your branded shirts or other merchandise. But even then, letting the availability spread via word-of-mouth means you get that same benefit until such a time as your making enough mainstream cash not to care.

And I’m not suggesting you should stop all your other branding, marketing and advertising and bung it all into T-shirts, but when you’re spreading your budget between SEO, Social Media, Display etc, it’s worth allocating some to something which might serve as a social object if you’re lucky.

And the best bit of this whole argument?

If it works, I’m hoping I can renew my wardrobe… And the last time I got a free shirt and modelled it (SocialMedian back in January 2009), it roughly coincided with the company being acquired for $7.5 million. It’s the T-shirts that did it…

Twitter + Authentic Celebrity = Word of Mouth success!

There’s been quite a lot of discussion around the Magpie Network advertising service for Twitter, and whether it’s a good or bad thing. Such as ReadWriteWeb, Jeremiah Owyang, and Techcrunch.

I bet the Twitter team are looking at the responses with interest!

But James Cridland picked up on an incredibly effective and authentic Word of Mouth event on Twitter. I’ll summarise, so you can go and read the full article, ‘Word of Mouse – @stephenfry sells bucketloads of Tweetie‘. Hugely popular celebrity and ‘proper’ Tweeter Stephen Fry mentioned some Twitter clients, received a recommendation for a paid client for the iPhone, posted a positive review of it, and gained a huge number of responses from people who appear to have paid for the client on his recommendation.

Who would have though that an influential celebrity who is authentically using a service could have a direct effect on a product? I’m off to persuade U.S. basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal he should be promoting 140char!

Jamie Oliver: Britain’s best marketing case study?

Jame Oliver by Vic on Flickr (CC licence)

Jame Oliver by Vic on Flickr (CC licence)

As I’ve said before, I don’t watch much broadcast television these days, but I made an effort to catch Jamie’s Ministry of Food after seeing some of the trailers and the fact it was flagged by Mark Earls.

And I’m glad I did, because it’s probably the first time the principles of community marketing (See also Word of Mouth marketing etc), have been played out on national television! If you’ve been looking for an effective case study, this is definitely one to watch.

The premise is simple. To try and get the people of Rotherham to start cooking helthy food rather than living on takeaways. But rather than an advertising campaign, the plan was to teach 8 people how to cook on the understanding they’d pass the recipes to 2 more people. And in 15 steps, they’d reach the 260,000 population of Rotherham.

As Mark says, it’s a template for HERD marketing:

1. focus on what you can do not what you can say
2. …on what you can give folk out there to do…
3. …that they can do with each other
4. …oh, and make it highly visible and oh, yes fun

But there’s even more that I picked up on. One of the things Jamie started by saying was that he had to listen to start with. Sound familiar?

He also picked a woman who had undermined his School Dinners campaign by taking chip shop orders through the school fence, and picked her out as a key influencer . Time will tell whether he picked the right influencer!

And he’s already worrying about the speed and scalability of the approach (Shel Isreal on scalability). He can see the positive effect he’s had on the 8 people he’s engaged, and the fact they’ve already ahd improvements to the way they live and act. But he’s got three months to transform a whole town. Sounds like the dilemma of showing a Return on Investment!

And finally there’s the fact he’s attempting to do something positive with this approach. Something that various people within the social media wrld have worried isn’t happening because most people are aiming for fame within the media/marketing/online sphere – and outside of it, things aren’t being affected by the new ways of marketing, communicating and conversing. (I’m struggling to find the appropriate link right now, so will add it later!)

If nothing else, it prompted me to exorcise some blog guilt. I’ve been tackling reports, budgets and plans, and I’m up to my neck in data and Excel spreadsheets, hence the slight lack of posts. But hopefully things should be more consistent again now.

There really is nothing new in Web 2.0

It’s been said before, but having chatted with some of my readers, and having been unable to quickly find a previous online example, I though it’s worth restating: There’s nothing new in Web 2.0.

And by that, I mean there’s nothing new about the facilities Web 2.0 offers. And now for some examples:

Tagging: Every time you’ve labeled anything in your life, you’ve tagged it. Putting your bills in a folder, putting a sticker on your homemade chutney, or creating a mixtape of songs. If only we’d called it labeling, rather than tagging, I’d have saved myself a few hours of explaining. And a Folksonomy is just what happens when information is structured by people labeling it.

Social networking: Every time you’ve been introduced to someone via a friend, or found yourself chatting to someone you’ve stood next to at a concert, or at the football, you’ve networked socially. Facebook and Myspace are the internet equivalents of your local pub, or the reading group at the local library.

Blogging: Diaries. Fanzines. The family newsletter tucked inside Christmas cards. Newspaper columns.

Crowdsourcing: Happened hundreds of years ago. Sticking up a ‘Wanted’ poster and offering a bounty was crowdsourcing people to catch a criminal.

Social news aggregators (e.g. Digg): Just recording online the same opinions you’d get chatting around the office coffee machine/smoking area.

Word of Mouth, Buzz, Social Media Marketing: When your pipe sprung a leak last night, and you came into work and asked your friend if they knew a good plumber – that’s Word of Mouth. Buzz is just getting lots of people talking and recommending. And social media marketing is just using the new online gathering places.

I did lie earlier.

There is one new thing about all Web 2.0 technology which radically changes everything we know. It’s made it so much easier to do all these things, that the amount of people involved, and the effects, have been amplified 100s, 1000s or even millions of times. It’s always happened. But now it’s happening on a global scale, and in a way that can change the fortunes of businesses.

Word of Mouth Marketing and Community Marketing defined

I’ve read a myriad of works attempting to quantify Word of the Mouth Marketing and Community Marketing, ranging from the likes of the Cluetrain, to Wikipedia. Many attempt a philosophical or pseudo-scientific approach, citing ideas such as messages spreading like viruses, key advocates, and bi-directional customer feedback flow.

That’s fine, and some of those approaches have a lot of worth. But I like to make things simple as possible.

Community Marketing and Word of Mouth Marketing is simply helping people to find the solutions to their problems (including finding news/sports/entertainment) by asking around. And it leads to the feeling you get when someone you know recommends a good plumber or carpenter who can fix your house, or a mechanic who can get your car on the road. For half price.

That’s it in the most basic nutshell. As a community marketing person, my job is to make the tools on our websites as simple and easy to use as possible to allow people to get to know each other and ask those questions in whatever is the best way for them at the time, and also to let people not currently on our sites know we exist in order for them to satisfy their needs.

That’s why most of the best Word of Mouth and Community Marketing experts aren’t employed by companies or marketing agencies. That’s why the best Word of Mouth and Community Marketing experts are those people who work for some spare cash as plumbers, electricians and carpenters. Because they can’t advertise, and they totally rely on recommendations.