How the Internet Reduces the Price of Risk

Not long ago we came across a very interesting quote. We’re paraphrasing, but in essence it said that the great thing about free market capitalism — regardless of how you  may feel about its various flaws — is that it allows a greater amount of entrepreneurial experimentation and fiddling than any other system. All that fiddling is not only what gives free markets their dynamism, but their ability to generate success and wealth…since more experimentation produces more successes. And not just the planned successes, but the unplanned ones, which are even more important since they uncover previously unseen market needs.

This is provocative and inspiring stuff. It highlights the importance and creative power of entrepreneurship and underscores the inevitability of both success and failure. Of course everyone loves the former and hates and fears the latter. And while some degree of failure is probably inevitable in business, the more things the entrepreneur tries, they greater the odds of eventually succeeding…maybe even on a very large scale.

That got us thinking about one of our favorite themes here at Nerve: the way the internet continues to drive down the price of entry into business. Put another way, it’s an engine that continues to drive down the price of risk. There’s probably never been a time in history when it’s cost less to get into business, enter a new category, launch a new campaign, even just float a new idea. That which fails can be either adjusted, retooled or in extreme cases erased as though it never happened. That which succeeds, if only a little, can be tinkered with and scaled until it reaches its maximum potential.

It’s an amazing amount of power, is it not? Thrilling to those of us who live to take calculated risks, create new things — or help others make the most of what they have created.

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Facebook (Finally) Leases its Data to Marketers

Normally we don’t like to share intimate details of our financial portfolios, but we’ll confess that — ehem — one of us has taken a bath on Facebook stock this past month. We don’t want to get into the nuts and bolts of what’s going wrong at Facebook, since the Wall Street Journal is already doing a pretty good job of that. However we do want to mention one of the most oft-discussed of Facebook’s untapped revenue streams: the exploitation of its data for marketing purposes. When will that start to happen? That’s a question Facebook’s critics have been asking since news of the IPO first broke.

As it turns out the process is quietly underway. Over the summer one or two products have snuck onto the market, products that allow marketers to dive into Facebook profile data — millions and millions of users’ worth. One of them is this product from MicroStrategy. With an annual price tag of about $25,000 it’s a blue chip service to be sure. However the capability it offers is simply awe inspiring. Imagine being able to sift through your customers’ demographics and psychographics down to the most granular level — then turn around and do the same thing to all the rivals in your category! So long as you and your competitors have lots of Facebook followers, that’s what $2,000 per month will buy you with Wisdom Professional.

We here at Nerve can’t afford that (yet). We also don’t do any marketing for MicroStrategy in case you were wondering. We’re simply pointing out that the world is now standing on the precipice of a marketing data explosion, brought to you courtesy of Mark Zuckerberg.

Here’s something we’re thinking, though: if Wisdom Professional will allow anyone with a subscription to delve into highly current and relevant consumer information, have corporate Facebook accounts suddenly become more trouble than they’re worth? Indeed, the more followers you have, the more effectively your competitors will now be able to identify and target them. Which makes us wonder two things: first, will this innovation lead to the mass deletion of corporate and/or brand Facebook accounts? And if so, has Facebook really done itself a favor by opening its data to these sorts of third party products?

We’re wondering if maybe we shouldn’t just sell that stock, like, tomorrow.


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Digital’s Great Advantage

Below in the post Is Creative Dead? we rebutted what seems to be the conventional wisdom (among a certain stripe of marketer, anyway) that conventional media are dead. Having said that we’d like to talk out of the other side of our mouth a bit. There’s a strong tech geek lobby around here, after all.

We doubt if the argument between “digital” and “analog” will ever be decided definitively, however there is one big area where the techies will always have the edge: tracking and measurement. There’s an old advertising joke in which a marketing directors bursts into a boardroom and says: “I have good news and bad news. The good news is I am now able to prove definitively that we’re wasting half our advertising dollars!”

“Wonderful!” says the chairman. “What’s the bad news?”

“I don’t know which half!”

Therein lies the big problem for traditional media. Rarely can you track with any great certainty the effect that your spend is having on your audience. Yes you can observe what’s happening on the macro level (sales trends). The micro level, however, is mostly shrouded in mystery.

Not so with digital. The digital realm is all about micro: tracking traffic and participation down to the person, capturing information, getting feedback, interacting and building those all-important relationships. What billboard or print ad can offer that sort of hands-on contact with customers? The digital era is indeed a dream come true for marketers who value research, hard data and customer response…which should be all of us.

But then what’s the point of research, hard data and customer response if not to create better, more effective mass messaging? See, we can go back and for the on this for hours…

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Is Creative Dead?

It’s possible that marketers, just by their very nature, are given to hyperbole. As a group we tend to talk a little loud, a little fast and in declarative terms. Call it a hazard of the profession: we’re excitable people. Which may explain why there’ve been so many articles around lately — “excitable” sorts of articles — declaring the death of creativity in marketing. The age of mass media is over, the argument goes, it doesn’t work anymore, and neither does the creative that drives it. The future is entirely digital. 

We at Nerve love online marketing and social media. That said, the very idea that the arrival of digital has made the world of traditional marketing obsolete is, well, just silly. A quick look at the numbers proves the point. While 44% of American homes now contain DVR’s, over 90% of all television is still consumed live, which means people are being exposed to television advertising in ever-greater amounts (live TV viewership is continuing to rise roughly 7% per year). In the realm of radio, an average of 2 million more consumers are tuning in every year. Overall, ad recall scores for the Big 3 of traditional marketing (print, outdoor and broadcast) are holding at the same levels they’ve been at for decades. Even good ol’ direct mail is holding steady, maintaining its traditional response rates.

What does it all mean? It means that while digital has opened up a whole new world of possibility when it comes to establishing and enhancing relationships with customers, the traditional media world isn’t going away. In many respects its actually getting stronger. Which means there will continue to be a need for solid creative in marketing. The evolving conundrum will be: how to express it. Some business will choose mass media broadcasting. Others, new media narrowcasting. Most will choose some combination of both.

So we say: long live the age of digital! It makes a wonderful complement to the ongoing age of traditional.




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Welcome to the fold, Louisville Science Center!

We’re very excited to announce that the Louisville Science Center recently chose Nerve Collective as its new agency of record. Having been science nerds all our lives, we couldn’t be more pleased about the new opportunity — nor more eager to start digging deeply into every super-cool and geeky corner of the place. (We’re hoping that free memberships are part of the arrangement but have been too sheepish to ask so far). Keep a lookout for new LSC creative work in this space, because we’ll be all-too-eager to show it. Talk about a great way to start a week!

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Big Shoulders Branding

Just finished a fun springtime project for a small startup in Chicago, Big Shoulders Coffee. These are the sorts of projects we really love around here: when we get to invent a brand from the ground up…logo, messaging, website, signage, the works.

This project is a great example of what can be accomplished on a very limited budget. Have look at the new microsite here. And if you happen to be in Chicago, or are planning to visit there soon, stop in. The coffee is fantastic.

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Experiential Marketing Goes Mainstream

The sun may be setting on the heyday of the message sender, but it’s a new dawn for other forms of marketing — and not just the new high-tech ones. So-called “experiential marketing” which once went by the more pedestrian names “event marketing”, “live marketing” or even “engagement marketing” if the agency was particularly expensive, is on the rise.

Not long ago it was something of a fringe tactic. You generally only saw it in grocery store product sampling programs, in bars with the Jäger Girls, at trade shows or at corporate training or morale events. Today the wind is at the back of experiential marketers as brands look for newer ways to capture the attention of consumers.

Home Depot is a great example. Recently they initiated a series free kids’ workshops which they hold on the first Saturday of each month. They’re great stuff. Recently we brought our own kids to an impromptu Home Depot pinewood derby, where staff taught children to build wooden racers using simple kits, then race them. Toy helicopters, picture frames, planters…every month it’s some thing new.

And now even brands that would seem not to have any clear connection to experiential marketing are getting in the act: The Gap, West Elm and CB2. It’s certainly debatable as to whether these sorts of tactics do anything to directly drive sales. But there’s no question that they build good will and with that, brand. In the present battle for the hearts and minds of consumers, that might be enough. At least for now.

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