A Lesson From Taco Bell: What Makes Freebies Valuable?

Recently, Taco Bell offered it’s 6 million Facebook fans a free taco redeemable with no strings attached at any participating location.  Interestingly, only 3% of fans took up the offer.  So, what is it that makes a freebie valuable?  What made Taco Bell’s offer so unappealing to its Facebook fans?

For starters, a 99 cent taco lacks the perceived (and real) value that gets a person excited about receiving a prize.  While its great to win anything, 99 cents is easily replaced.

This blog thinks a lack of exclusitivity is what made the promotion fail.  Though it may be true that a promotion corresponding with a new product launch may have increased the perceived value of the giveaway, I do not believe it was the number one deterrant to it’s success.

So what was? 

In my opinion, it was the effort required to redeem the prize that was the biggest problem.  When you think about successful promotions like Tim Horton’s Roll Up the Rim to Win campaign, customers can redeem prizes instantly.  Taco Bell put too many barriers in place for customers to the point that, even if they wanted the free taco, it wasn’t worth the effort.  When it comes to promotions, instancy is the name of the game. 

Though the online landscape has opened doors to interaction between brands and customers online, instant access to physical products has been a barrier to the success of numerous campaigns.  Brands must figure out a new approach to these types of giveaways if they wish to make them worthwhile going forward.

140 Characters

When Twitter first launched and I heard it had a character limitation I thought “how can users say ANYTHING meaningful in 140 characters?” Originally, Twitter seemed best suited to following celebrities and letting followers know what you were doing – serving a limited (not to mention easily duplicated) function at best.

Though it may have been slow to catch on, Twitter has evolved into something much bigger.

In business to business publishing, “news trackers” have become increasingly common to provide customers with relevant, timely information, with short headlines that help users filter what they do and do not want to read in greater depth. As the need for content on mobile devices has increased, limitations to the amount of content people want to view on their phones has pushed publishers to adopt a similar model to Twitter’s character limitations.

Today, even Twitter is used more as an information source than it is as a way to keep track of specific people. Rather than follow Chris Brogan to know what he had for lunch, we follow him for the the valuable knowledge and information to which he can connect us.

An evolution in the way Twitter is used has seemingly revolutionized the way that we filter information.

Web Evolution – A History of Web Design Over the Past 20 Years

Below is a graphic developed by KISSmetrics outlining the evolution of web design since the world’s first website was launched  in 1991.

In only 20 years the definition of a “web presence” has evolved to the point that today, many argue that traditional websites are becoming obsolete.  When discussing the promotion of his new book, Guy Kawasaki recently suggested that he didn’t need a website to reach his target customers, but a Facebook page instead.

Static websites are a thing of the past and concepts like collaboration and crowd sourcing are becoming web standards.  Of course, the evolution will continue and even these concepts will become old news (probably even faster than traditional web pages).  The infographic below is a great reflection of where we’ve been in such a short period of time.  One can only speculate what this chart will look like 20 years from today.

Aflac Looks for New Voice

Known for it’s strong social media presence, Aflac (and its trademark duck) recently entered some unfamiliar waters… hot water.

After making a number of insensitive cracks about the recent disaster in Japan, the voice of the Aflac duck was relieved of his duties.  As a result, the insurance company was in need of a new voice to represent its brand through the various social media platforms that it has been active on over the last several years.  However; what could have been a public relations disaster has been parlayed into a creative social campaign designed to find the next voice of the Aflac duck.

Aflac’s quick response to the situation distanced the brand from the opinions of  the its former spokesperson.  While incidents like these are unfortunate, the company’s deep involvement in social media allowed it to reach customers quickly to involve them in a search for a new voice.  This involvement has not only helped people forget about the recent comments, but will also undoubtedly lead to a voice that customers can resonate with.

Would You Pay for Online Content?

A recent poll conducted by SmartBrief on Social Media asked readers if they believed media companies and publishers should charge for online content.

No, content wants to be free – 48.73%
Online content should be based on a “freemium model” – 28.48%
Yes, there will be buyers for all kinds of relevant information – 22.78%

The results weren’t surprising, but point to a couple of issues that publishers need to be aware of going forward.

  1. The increasing availability of content online is making credibility an important element of a publisher’s ability to charge for use.  Almost 30% of respondents thought that a “freemium model” was an appropriate approach, meaning potential customers would have access to a limited selection of content free of charge.  This approach gives exposure to the content and let’s potential purchasers see the product quality before making a decision.
  2. A person’s willingness to pay for content is partially dependent on their demographic and the type of content they’re interested in acquiring. For example, a professional that needs credible information as a part of their work responsibilities is more likely to pay for content than someone look for casual reading.
  3. The missing piece to most content you can find online (other than confirmed credibility) is the context.  Generally facts are easy to come by; however, the explanation of a trained professional is likely to have a much higher perceived value.  (See http://www.newmediacy.wordpress.com for  more information on the New York Times new pay-for-content plan).

My answer to whether or not publishers and media companies should charge for content is, it depends.  Customer demographics, the purpose of the communication and the ease of acquiring similar information elsewhere are just a few of the many considerations that need to be made before making a decision.  Content marketing has become an important component of the marketing mix for companies hoping to gain credibility with their target market, and the social landscape is increasingly used to facilitate the conversation.

Social Media Metics and ROI

Since the emergence of social media marketing as a way of maintaining a continual dialogue and brand recognition with customers, brand marketers have struggled to understand the true impact of their online efforts.

Syncapse recently published a whitepaper on  understanding Facebook fan value and key return on investment indicators.  I recommend that any brand marketer interested in better understanding the online landscape and the value of engaging customers through social media platforms read it and consider how to provide relevant content to potential customers (and convert them to brand ambassadors) online.

Similar to a Twitter follower, a Facebook fan will be more valuable if they have a true interest in your brand and product offerings.  The number of facebook fans a brand collects is less important than who those fans are.  In other words, quality trumps quantity.  Knowing who is following your brand will go a long way in understanding their value and the return on your online activities.

What does your company do to assess the quality of your social media following?

Socialnomics 2.0

Have a look at how many times this video has been viewed since it was posted on YouTube earlier this week and you’ll get a feel for what the social media revolution really means, and a sense of exactly what Eric Qualman is getting at with his message.   It’s clear social media is not a fad, but as it is put within the video, a “fundamental shift in the way we communicate”.  As communicators, marketers can no longer overlook this medium as a way to reach customers.