One frontier of cutting-edge behavioral targeting is the push toward analyzing anonymous cookie data to predict probable consumer responses with ever greater control for the marketer. In the conversation below, Ariel McNichol and Julia Johnston, co-founders of mEgo, outline a radically different approach, allowing consumers to choose the kinds of messaging and targeting behaviors that fit their own needs and interests.
Behavioral Insider: In approaching the challenge of monetizing social media, what have you learned from the targeting attempts and strategies of some of the large social networks?
Ariel McNichol: We are lucky to be able to create marketing experiences based on knowledge learned from recent user-behavioral targeting mis-steps. For example, when Facebook launched Beacon, users felt violated, and Facebook was forced to retreat. Users felt they had no control and that their private data was being exploited.
What we decided to do was test the premise that if we let users know what parts of their profile was being used in targeting, and let them proactively control these traits... and add in an incentive to have advertisements targeted to them by letting them share in the revenue generated from these ads -- that we had a winning combination. In further detail, we tested the notion of having users earmark a portion of revenue generated for non-profits of their choice, both for our brand value and because the amounts of money earned are almost negligible on an individual basis.
BI: How do you go about engaging a dialogue about consumers' attitudes toward advertising on their network?
McNichol: You see, by letting our users earn even a marginal amount of money for non-profits they care about, they suddenly see the fact that they have ads on their mEgos as something they chose to do, something benevolent. The power to easily do good is quite compelling. Take a look at www.freerice.com, and you can see how earning even a grain of rice can be an incredibly viral and compelling experience.
The lesson learned: It is essential that brands earn and keep consumer's trust in order to be able to effectively market to them. Without trust, the greatest marketing system in the world can't work. Set the expectation of complete transparency between marketer and consumer, and you convert your consumer from being fearful into being an advocate.
MEgo profiles are extremely personalized, going into great individual detail. They include people's favorite shops, foods, films, music and authors and they are evolving all the time with more personal information. All the data mEgo collects both increases possibilities for rich targeting -- and our responsibility for building trust among consumers that we will protect the information we collect.
BI: What kinds of marketing campaigns have been developed so far using the mEGO platform?
Julia Johnston: For now, mEgo has launched a model of user-endorsement marketing . Shortly after mEgo was launched, we were approached by interactive agencies who see mEgo as a superior way to penetrate social networks over traditional media buying. Their reasons include the fact that mEgos naturally reside on multiple social networks, thus avoiding the need to do media buying on literally1000s of different social networks. Secondly, by having mEgos carry user-chosen sponsored brand assets, mEgo gives that brand user engagement, endorsement and distribution. It seems marketing agencies are seeing that with social media marketing, traditional site ad buys, simple marketing widgets and impersonal rebates and free gifts are not very effective.
Simple marketing widgets die quickly because the user has no personal history or investment in them, whereas mEgos are someone's profile, so they have a very long shelf life.
Our flagship user-endorsement deal is a promotion with Adidas and Missy Elliott to promote the fashion line, Respect M.E. Originals, using mEgo as a platform to generate entries. Aspiring young singers, models, actresses and just ordinary young ladies create an Adidas-branded mEgo via the official contest site, and five winners will become global brand ambassadors for Adidas and Missy Elliott ... and [will have] a photo shoot with Missy Elliott. Contestants create highly customized personal avatars which use branded content, images and backgrounds, and combine them with their videos, photos, and all kinds of personal content. The entrants then take their mEgo and post it all over the Web, encouraging their friends and fans to vote for them on the actual mEgo. The mEgo profiles include not only the ability to vote, but a special Adidas pod with a feed to the latest products and links to buy them.
The contest mEgos were distributed to over 600 domains and were created all over the world, in 16 different languages. Although we cannot disclose the total number of entries, we can say that the top vote recipients got tens of thousands of votes, each requiring registration -- so we're looking at a significant amount of engagement. Creating the contest mEgos was a brand-immersive experience and so was viewing and voting on these mEgos.
Social media marketing is an approach that is resonating with many different brands. Marketing departments realize that the 13- to 24-year-old demographic is not readily reached anymore by TV or magazines -- and that instead, they're spending their time on social networks. WEgo has grown over 175,000 users in the last 2 months alone, 65% female and under 24 years old, and mEgos are viewed 350,000 times per day on social networks.
BI: How are you looking at applying principles of targeted advertising within the platform?
Johnston: Going back to how mEgo intends to roll out our advertising strategy: We will provide a transparent description of how users' data is used and, most importantly, allow users to filter which information is publicly available and used for targeting. MEgo members will have complete control of what portions of their profile they'll permit us to use to target ads. For example, a mEgo user interested in music may choose to view only ads for indie bands generated from a list of their favorite musicians. As an extra step in transparency, we also literally show users the keywords our platform generates for serving the ads they see.
MEgo plans to offer more than just targeted ads based on profile data, but contextually relevant utilities and products as well. Further, mEgo will explore working with other types of behavioral targeting such as browsing and purchase histories, so long as we can provide information back to the user.
BI: What new features or marketing-related applications are on the short-term horizon?
McNichol: Our upcoming launches include an iPhone branded version of the mEgo application that will provide a near-to-identical experience to that of the Web version. MEgo's small screen footprint provides an ideal way to for people to navigate easily to a ton of personal content on handheld devices and delivers a powerful mobile social interaction tool. We will also be rolling out an advanced avatar engine where users can select clothes and other items, that can act as further user-endorsed brand assets.