I just came back from my annual lecture on e-marketing at the University of Metz.
Apart from increasing my cholesterol level with local fatty delicacies, this yearly pilgrimage is the opportunity to shut off from the pressure of the real world and to re-enter the more benign alter reality of the academia.
I have been doing these lectures since 1999 and I find it interesting to see how motivation, interests and the “buzz” evolve among new generations of Internet professionals. This year was particularly inspiring as my students came from very diverse backgrounds (an army submariner, a Cisco engineer, some advertising new business chaps…). They had a lecture on online journalism and were all switched on by blogs and online marketing.
We talked about the media landscape evolving from “mass media” to “we media”, contextual marketing (think Google Adsense, geo-localisation…) and online communities. On the latter, they were particularly interested in how brands were trying to “infiltrate” online communities.
Sulake’s Habbo hotel is one of my favourite examples of successful online community. Providing a safe virtual environment for teenagers to socialise, it opened in January 2001 and now counts over 2.5 millions members across Europe, Canada, US and Japan.
Some forward thinking companies have already tapped into this captive audience to create an “immersive branding” experience for promotional purposes:
Clearasil created a “Face of the Future” model competition and promoted it via the hotel’s cinema room and through pre-programmed Habbo characters talking about the event. As a result, the clickthrough to the Clearasil website was 22 per cent higher than parallel campaigns using “regular online promotion”. Over half of a sample of 5,200 Habbo members said their opinion of the brand had improved.
Momentum Pictures promoted Britney’s Crossroads movie through online billboards, internal messages via the Habbo mail console and exclusive posters for sale to adorn the walls of virtual apartments. In addition, it created a Karaoke event and staff on the site encouraged Habbo users to take to the stage and talk about the movie’s release.
Habbo’s immersive branding has seen higher response rates than traditional banners and pop-ups, with click-through rates of more than 20 per cent through its billboards.
Marketing to online communities is about providing user value, abiding by the community rules and understanding groups and online discussion dynamics. In short, it’s not easy, time consuming but increasingly indispensable to connect with otherwise fragmented and hard to reach audiences. And as the results from Habbo’s campaigns can testify: it works.
As Steve Outing, a senior editor at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies sums up: “Kids today expect to interact with their media". Community marketing is definitely a growing trend and when today’s kids will grow up, it will be part of every marketer’s toolbox.