Meerkat – The Underdog (or Kat)

Meerkat_v_PeriscopeMobile live-streaming video apps have hit the market, and in a big way. The app known as Meerkat was the darling child of South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference held in Austin, Texas in March. The conference fosters creativity and celebrates forward-thinkers in the sectors of music, film and emerging technologies.

Innovative ideas often come in sets of two. Meerkat had raving fans at the onset, so it’s no surprise that it was swiftly met with some fierce competition. It’s a David-and-Goliath showdown between the small startup with a big idea, and one of social media’s biggest players. But more on that later. To get the full picture, let’s start with the basics.

Meerkat is an app that allows users to live-stream video from their smartphones and place it directly in their Twitter feed. Your followers can click on your video and watch it live, as well as send tweets to you during the “broadcast.” You’ll be able to see right on your phone who is watching.

So what does this mean and why would anyone want to use it?

Well, Meerkat gained some serious traction in its infancy. The Miami Dolphins used it to announce the signing of a new defensive tackle. Jimmy Fallon streamed a monologue rehearsal. BBC News has used the app to stream protests in Ferguson, MO.

The value was quickly noticed by big brands, journalists and celebrities. Meerkat acquired roughly 300,000 users in just the couple of weeks since its launch. Live-streaming video is not a new idea – but  the ease of social sharing this stream has made this a craze.

Journalists have used Twitter for live, on-the-scene reports; the ability to stream live video only enhances the opportunity for minute-by-minute reporting. Live-streaming also offers more access and transparency for brands, which have used it for tours, interviews, live Q&A, big announcements, and launches.

The Underdog/Kat

A key to Meerkat’s initial success was launching the product on the right platform – Twitter. Is it becoming clear yet who Goliath is in this saga? Prior to SXSW and the launch of Meerkat, Twitter had purchased a similar live-streaming app called Periscope for $100 million. Meerkat blindsided them. As Twitter prepped to launch Periscope, they were beat to the punch – and on their own network! Meerkat was biting the hand that fed it. Meerkat depends on the use of Twitter’s social graph for people to view live streams, it’s no surprise that Twitter blocked Meerkat’s use of their social graph for a short while and raced to officially launch Periscope.

How the Deck is Stacked

The story continues to unfold between Meerkat and Periscope. Given its powerful lineage, Periscope has more features and carries a more esteemed reputation. Its biggest advantage: the ability to save a broadcast and re-watch.

And, though Twitter allowed Meerkat back on its social graph, the off-air delay significantly impacted Meerkat’s momentum. Today, both are increasing in number of downloads, and are neck-and-neck in the race for users.

As with most apps, for both Periscope and Meerkat, updates are always in the works and the bugs are being worked out. The initial craze has yet to show if users will be rational with this technology or if it will become another vehicle for illegal streaming or cyber-bullying.

Both apps face interesting legal concerns. Most recently, the season premiere of the hit HBO series Game of Thrones was illicitly streamed using Periscope. Sporting leagues with specific television deals are proactively addressing possible illegal live-streaming.

The truth with many apps is, you might want it, but you certainly don’t need two. The victor will be crowned soon enough. In nature, the meerkat is a very social creature, but it’s too soon to tell whether or not those higher up on the technology food chain will hasten the namesake app’s demise.

Embracing the Confusing World of Digital Payments

Embracingthe Confusing World UPDATED

In September 2014, Apple made headlines when it introduced Apple Pay, the company’s entry into a crowded market of competing technologies vying to become the standard for mobile payments in the United States. Even with a growing list of retailers accepting this as a form of payment to help the technology go mainstream, the jury is still out on whether Americans and major retailers are ready to embrace it.

Over the last few weeks I decided to give mobile payments a try. I switched to Android last summer, but Google has a competing solution called Google Wallet that uses the same type of technology as Apple’s near-field communication or NFC. A little-mentioned fact is that any payment terminal that accepts Apple Pay also accepts Google Wallet, so Android users can also pay with their phones.

My favorite local grocer Wegmans was early to announce the adoption of NFC at their checkout counters.  To try it out, I went through the self-serve checkout, swiped my items and when it came time to pay I pulled out my Android phone, where I already had Google Wallet set up. I placed it against the terminal and a second later a blue light indicated my transaction was complete. It couldn’t have been easier!

Since it was so easy for a customer, I decided to ask employees what they had to say about it. A manager mentioned she had only seen one other person do it in the last few months. Not surprising considering current estimates put Apple Pay use at only 6% of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus users despite its highly hyped roll-out. Google Wallet has received little to no publicity in comparison and despite projections for large future adoption, current mobile payment usage is still small.

Just how far away is a future where mobile payments are widespread? Another little-known fact is that all retailers in the United States will be replacing their terminals in the near future and most will likely opt to include technology like NFC when they do. The United States is moving over to EMV (Europay, MasterCard, and Visa) or what is referred to as Chip and PIN in Europe. It is a more secure, globally recognized form of payment that relies on a microchip to generate a unique code with each transaction rather than a fixed magnetic strip currently found in credit cards.

It will require consumers to enter a PIN code for each transaction. New terminals will need to be available at retailers and new cards issued by financial institutions. Universal roll-out will likely continue in the US through the end of the decade.

Companies like Apple and Google didn’t start releasing their new systems at this time by happenstance. The mandate for new technology and the coming change in consumer behavior made this a perfect time to try and disrupt the way we interact with the pay terminal. It was going to be disrupted anyway.

Why do so many people want you to pay by phone?

There are nuanced differences between Apple Pay, Google Wallet and other competitors. These systems act as a technology layer between your credit card and the retailer and ensure that your credit card number isn’t revealed to retailers.

Google acts as an intermediary, saving card data on their servers and then issuing a virtual card to your device for each transaction. There is no cost to the consumer, retailer or bank and the service tries to be a wallet replacement, storing loyalty cards and offering other incentives to consumers who make the switch.

Like all things Google, the company will likely find ways to use the information it stores about you and won’t share with retailers to make money for itself, likely by feeding its databases with information that can bulk up its products and services and selling that data to advertisers and marketers through its ad platforms.

Apple on the other hand works directly with banks, generating a token unique to that device and card (Device Account Number or DAN) that is sent on to a retailer when a transaction is made. This will keep the data flowing in to banks in exchange for providing security features (touch ID) and the means for consumers to make mobile purchases. So while Google continues to be a data company through Wallet, it would appear Apple is dipping a toe into the financial services industry.

Meanwhile, retailers Wal-Mart, Best Buy, CVS, Rite-Aid and others have formed a consortium called Merchant Customer Exchange or MCX and are backing a competitor to both systems called CurrentC that uses QR codes instead of NFC to make mobile payments. Their goal is to keep the data in house along with the 2%-3% in fees that credit card companies typically charge them per transaction. This system does not use credit cards and relies instead on a consumer’s debit card.

You would think that if any technology were likely to take a lead, it would be the one now installed on millions of iPhones and Android devices. Several people in the office have recently upgraded to an iPhone6, but none have utilized the Apple Pay feature. Knowing the percentage of people who use the service is low, it will be interesting to see if concessions or incentives are made by Apple, Google, or others to make mobile payments a more widely utilized form of payment by customers.

When Big Snow Messes With Your Media Buy

Buffalo Blog Post Image

During the week of November 17, 2014, areas immediately south of Buffalo, N.Y. received upwards of eight feet of lake-effect snow, which is what the area typically sees in an entire winter season. This prompted local TV affiliates’ news departments to provide wall-to-wall weather-related news coverage for a good portion of the week. For the people of snowed-in Buffalo Southtowns, the stations provided a valuable service, providing around-the-clock emergency storm-related information.

For media buyers however, wall-to-wall storm coverage requires us to take ratings discrepancies into account when managing a buy. If an-out of-town agency was to place a future TV buy in the market using the November 14 Nielsen book, and averaged all of the week’s ratings together, they wouldn’t necessarily know they were buying based on inflated ratings results on affiliates that were airing weather coverage during the snowstorm.

For example, on WGRZ, Buffalo’s NBC affiliate, Dr. Phil at 3 p.m. averaged a 4.2 HH (household) rating during non-storm weeks in the November 2014 Nielsen book. During the week of the storm, when news coverage pre-empted the scheduled Dr. Phil Show, the same period received a 13.5 HH rating – more than three times the average amount!

The opposite proved true on stations without news coverage. WNLO for example, airs Law & Order: SVU at 3 p.m. During non-storm weeks, the program averaged a 0.6 HH rating. During the storm, the program dropped to a 0.4 HH rating, losing a third of its audience, most likely to other stations’ storm news coverage.

What does all this mean? It means that media planners and buyers need to be aware of local events that may preempt regular programming and affect ratings books, and plan buys accordingly. There are many ways we do this, all of which give our clients a much more realistic buy at appropriate rates.

This Year’s Super Bowl Tugs at your Heart Strings

TB Crying Meme - Tipping Point Communications - Super Bowl blog post

You might have shed a tear or two at this year’s Super Bowl. For some, it may have been because of Malcolm Butler’s goal-line interception in the fourth quarter and for others it was because of the powerful ads. This year’s Super Bowl commercials really ramped up the emotion in comparison to past years and left many viewers a little misty-eyed.

NoMore.Org sent a powerful message with its chilling commercial promoting an end to domestic violence. The commercial really resonated with audiences, and it’s one that I can’t stop talking about. You’re listening in on a woman calling in a fake pizza order to 9-1-1 hoping the operator will understand that she’s calling about an emergency. As you’re listening to the 9-1-1 call, you’re looking at a room with dents in the wall at eye-level, disheveled picture frames hanging on the wall and items around the house thrown all around. It’s a powerful message, especially in the wake of the domestic abuse accusations the NFL is facing.

Another tear-jerker was Always’ “Like a Girl” commercial. This is an eye-opening effort by the brand to show how pre-adolescent girls view themselves in comparison to 20-something men and women. Both groups are asked what it means to run, throw, etc. like a girl. Of course you see the 20-somethings run with their arms and legs flailing and gently pretending to toss a ball. Ask the pre-teen girls what they think it means to do something like a girl, and they give it their all. This sends a powerful message on the switch that happens in girls and as they grow up, they take on a negative point of view of what it means to do something like a girl.

And we can’t forget about the return of Budweiser’s dynamic dog and Clydesdale duo. This one didn’t leave a dry eye in the house with the lab getting lost when it tries to follow its best bud, the Clydesdale. The pup has to find his way back home, with multiple close encounters on the way. But wait, he is then rescued by his best friend and pack of Clydesdales and returns safely back home.

Some of our favorite ads? Nissan’s “With Dad” commercial that will also get you a little misty-eyed, the nostalgic BMW commercial with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel reminiscing about what the internet is, and of course the hilarious Doritos commercial.

What were some of your favorites this year? Would you like to see more humor and less sentimentality in next year’s Super Bowl 50 ads?

Getting to the Heart of Content Marketing

Content Marketing - Tipping Point Communications

Content Marketing is the communications world’s latest buzzword. Agencies are scrambling to define exactly what it really is, and industry media can’t get enough of the subject. In fact, just this week, AdWeek declared “LinkedIn Beats Twitter for Content Marketing” – just one month after it claimed “Twitter Rated Most Effective for Content Marketing”.

So what’s the real story? Of course, the Tipping Point team has our own theory. We believe Content Marketing is just more of what we’ve always done, while leveraging all the new media and monitoring to make our efforts even more effective.

Basically, content marketing involves creating and curating (a.k.a., sharing other creator’s) relevant, valuable, and consistent content to attract and engage a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving specific action. In our opinion, that shouldn’t be too far removed from your public relations or employee relations approach.

In today’s world, though, this approach requires constant generation of content. And you’re pushing it at audiences who are inundated with messages. They’re wary, cynical, and have other resources for information. Ultimately, they are in control.

So it’s a far cry from the old days of pushing out newsletters, publishing your website, placing bylined articles, and just getting that Facebook page up there. Now, it’s critical that these components work together, in a thoughtful content strategy, to engage your audiences and get them to find you and consider you to be subject-matter experts in your field.

To get there, you need to understand your audiences and communicate with them (not at them). Tipping Point has an established approach that helps you find the right strategy to reach your goals.

Through research, we help define who you’re talking to, where they are, and what they are looking for. From there, we develop and curate creative and relevant content, and utilize paid, earned, and owned media (both online and off) to reach them. We leverage all the tools at our disposal to disseminate and optimize your content – because just publishing it isn’t enough anymore. And then we measure to confirm who’s finding you, what tactics are working best, and how to continue to increase our impact.

So don’t get overwhelmed at the thought of Content Marketing. It’s a real and tangible way to maximize what you’re already doing. Give us a call for more information.

Make Time for Evolving Social Media Strategy

evolution of Facebook

Facebook is changing. Again.

And so the backlash begins. Again.

In case you missed the big announcement, beginning in January Facebook will be changing the algorithm it currently uses to determine how brand posts will be displayed in News Feeds.

Under the new guidelines for the algorithm, brand posts deemed “too promotional” will not receive the organic reach they once enjoyed. What exactly is considered “too promotional” is yet to be seen, but Facebook uses the following example on their blog:

  1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app
  2. Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context
  3. Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads

Bunny Puzzle Cube

So is that really a bad thing? Unless you had your heart set on “nonstop bunny puzzle action” and didn’t know where to get it, you might be disappointed. Some folks in the blogosphere are complaining that Facebook is just trying to free up some ever-competitive space in your News Feed for more paid ads, but we would counter that what Facebook is doing is good. They are encouraging quality over quantity and less “clutter” in News Feeds. Seems like a good thing to me !

If you’re a marketer trying to promote your company’s products or services, you may have to rethink your social strategy.
Paid posts will still be displayed as usual, but organic posts will need to be creative in their approach because they will have to fight harder for space in followers’ News Feeds. A strong social media plan should include both paid and organic posts. First, you need to build your tribe. Paid social ads are an effective (and relatively inexpensive) tactic to get your message to the right audience, and can help you build your “tribe”. How you engage them once they reach your page is another story. A planned strategy utilizing a mix of both paid and organic media can differentiate a strong, successful campaign from an ineffective one. (P.S. the Tipping Point team can help you develop a social media strategy if you don’t have one.)

Remember, social media is still considered to be in its infancy. Facebook is growing and changing. When television was the new kid on the block, no one had even dreamed of the ground-breaking changes I Love Lucy would have on the industry – or cable television for that matter. Social media strategies need to evolve in order to remain relevant and to keep up with Facebook algorithms… Which is really not a bad thing.

Customizing Your Team to Maximize Your Results

Tipping Point Communications - Customizing Your Team

Being all things to all people is a feat mastered by very few, but attempted by many. The media landscape has grown increasingly complex in recent years. For definition sake, let’s say the media landscape encompasses advertising, digital and traditional media and social. These methods of communication work interdependently to deliver custom content to your audience.

The phrase “take it or leave it” isn’t so much a threat, as it is fact today. Audiences don’t have to settle for one type of format, or one place to receive their information. Our communication consumption habits can be summed up in a few words: convenient, customized, engaging. With the cards laid out, a picky audience and blurred lines in the practice of marketing communications, agencies are forced to rethink their lineup in order to deliver the best results for their clients.

At Tipping Point, we value our relationships with partner agencies and know that they have played crucial roles in delivering client results. Assessing a client’s needs and identifying your strengths and weaknesses is an important part of the process. Trying to master every piece of the puzzle isn’t always an option. Working interdependently ensures that the best players are on the team when necessary and clients receive positive outcomes.

With the influx of complexity in the media space, it’s become easier to identify your client’s needs. Big data is leading the creative and customizing processes. Insights gained from research allow us to base our recommendations on more than just a hunch. The relationship between data and connectivity is increasingly important. Team members that can take these insights and turn them into a strategic approach are vital for success.

In order to see the whole picture, it’s important to involve all parties and perspectives behind the curtain. By working together, we can build a fresh approach that will make all the difference. We know that our clients, as well as their audiences, can exercise their right to be picky and we work to build a team that delivers on all fronts.

Focus Groups Take the Cake!

Focus Groups Take the Cake

I started getting involved with coordinating focus groups at Tipping Point Communications this summer. At first I had no idea what a focus group was or why it was so important to hold them. As I started to get more involved, it made me wonder: who came up the idea to observe people giving their opinions on certain topics?

As my wonder turned to curiosity, I decided to do a little research. Focus groups were being held before World War II. By the 1950s, focus groups were common practice among marketers. Even President Clinton was known to hold focus groups during his presidency to gauge voters’ interest.

One of the most fascinating examples I discovered had to do with the way instant cakes were made. In the 1950s Ernest Dichter coined the term “focus group.” He was known as a consumer marketing guru. Instant cake sales were at an all-time low, but no one could figure out why. Dichter held a focus group composed of women who were homemakers. In the focus group, researchers learned that women enjoyed the convenience of the instant cake, but felt guilty for the process being too easy. Betty Crocker added the extra step of adding a fresh egg to the mix and sales skyrocketed. The women baking the cakes wanted to feel like they were contributing to making the cake.

As Focus Group Coordinator for Tipping Point Communications, I’ve learned so much about the art of focus groups. From the initial phone call to holding the focus group itself, there are so many moving pieces. My favorite part of the process is the day of the group. I love meeting the clients and participants. In my opinion, the best feature of our facility is the remote viewing room. The room is filled with wild plants and has interesting artwork. The view from the remote viewing room is spectacular, and clients love it. Please give me a call at 585-340-1119 if you would like a tour or more information!

Party fouls: Mistakes to avoid with elected officials

Party Fouls - Mistakes to avoid with elected officials - TPC

Incorporating elected officials into your events is a great way to build relationships with key decision-makers and achieve maximum exposure for your event. Common opportunities are ribbon-cuttings, groundbreakings, major announcements, roundtables or conferences. Avoiding these three common mistakes can help ensure your next experience working with elected officials goes without a hitch.

1. Ignoring elected officials

Between local, state and federal government, there are likely to be many elected officials that are relevant to your organization. You don’t want to get off on the wrong foot by leaving someone important out.

Remember to consider your event as an opportunity to establish and grow relationships with a number of elected officials and invite all those with a connection. Start by inviting those who represent your organization’s district/municipality. Also, do your homework and see if your event is related to an issue they are involved with, a topic they’re passionate about or funding/policy from their level of government.

2. Not preparing staff in advance

Generally, politicians don’t like surprises unless it puts them on the winning end of an upset. So waiting until just before your event is not the ideal time to bring elected officials up to speed on what’s about to happen. If they don’t know what they’re walking into, it could end up making them and you look bad.

Making their bosses look good is in the job description of all political staffers. Help them help you by providing them an agenda, background, media materials, potential questions and answers, prepared remarks or talking points, media outlets invited and attending, even driving directions and parking. Relationships with staff can be as valuable as those with elected officials, so you definitely want them on your side.

3. Overlooking backup plans

Schedules for elected officials are often jam-packed and it’s not uncommon for them to be running behind, rushing off to another obligation immediately after, or even canceling at the last minute. It’s variables like this, that are beyond your control, which can make event planning so stressful. But just like you would have contingency plans for the inclement weather, you need to be organized and prepared for the unexpected when working with elected officials.

Stay in constant communication with your vendors and participants, especially if the event date is a moving target to accommodate specific VIPs and elected officials. Also, keep your agenda flexible to allow for changes to the speaking roles and order, whether it’s moving a speaker up or back to accommodate their schedules or getting a different elected official to fill in for a cancellation.

At Tipping Point Communications, we recognize the value that strong relationships with decision-makers and stakeholders can bring to your organization or cause. Clients from a wide range of industries turn to us to leverage our expertise with public affairs, special events and media relations to make a lasting impression with their audiences. Contact us to learn more about our capabilities and how we can help you take your events and campaigns to the next level.

Why I dressed up as a lobster the first week at my new job

Tipping Point Communications lobsters

On the second day of my new job as Associate Public Relations Manager at Tipping Point Communications, we moved into a new office space. To celebrate the first official week in the new space, we held an employee fun run from the old office to our new location. Not only was every employee going to participate, they were all going to show up in their most spirited costumes. So when two of my colleagues, who were also relatively new themselves, asked me if I wanted to dress up as a lobster with them, I couldn’t refuse.

Some people might think dressing up as a lobster for a race is absolutely crazy at any time – and much less during their first week or even month at a new job. But, helping with the move really made me feel part of the team right away. Dressing up in a head-to-toe lobster costume wasn’t something that I had to second-guess. I figured, why not dress up with a group rather than go it alone for the race. We kept our costume idea a secret right up until the race started. You could imagine the response we got from other co-workers – they absolutely loved it and couldn’t believe that we had the costumes lying around.

It was so fun to be able to surprise them because the three of us – the newest members on the team – were probably the last people they ever expected to dress up in lobster costumes. The lobsters and I finished the race together and even won the award for best costume! I’m so happy that I chose to dress up as a lobster for the run because it helped my new co-workers get to know me on a personal level. I feel that doing something so notable the first week on a new job helped earned the respect of my colleagues and new boss. The race really made me feel part of a team and I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome or more exciting first week at Tipping Point Communications.