November 1, 2012

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Article

There’s an App for That

Harness the Potential of Facebook Applications

Brad Plothow

November 1, 2012

For brands, Facebook is both a darling and a disappointment. The social network’s ubiquitous popularity and sheer size—nearly 1 billion users worldwide—make it hard to ignore. But at this point in the evolution of the world’s largest digital hangout, it’s clear that not all marketing strategies that involve Facebook are created equal.

Increasingly, marketers have found display advertising on Facebook to be ineffective, contributing to the company losing roughly half of its market value since going public earlier this year. As one alternative, many brands are engaging customers and creating awareness through highly creative and customized Facebook apps.

In the wake of successful games like Farmville, the business world is just now learning how to harness the potential of Facebook applications. In fact, Facebook developer James Pearce recently wrote that since the site launched its mobile platform last year, handheld devices alone send some 60 million users per month to apps and games. Utah firms are figuring out that simply having a presence on Facebook isn’t enough, but success isn’t necessarily measured by how much content is poured into the network either. There are few firm rules in the social world, but solid Facebook apps tend to have a narrow scope and fanatical alignment with a broader strategy.

All About Awareness
Ben Craner found out that Facebook has stiff protections for profile pages when he tried to stick tacos to people’s profile pictures without their permission. As chief marketing officer at Café Rio, the Utah-based Tex-Mex food chain, Craner was trying to drive engagement with customers on Facebook. So he created an online “food fight,” allowing users to digitally accost their friends with items from the restaurant’s menu. The burritos, salads and desserts would stay stuck to the victim’s page until he or she removed it and, hopefully, retaliated.

“When their friends slapped them with a tres leches or something, we want them to think of Café Rio,” Craner says. “In Utah, most people already know of the Café Rio brand, so my strategy is to keep them thinking about us. We want word-of-mouth advertising, and we just keep giving people tools to do that.”

While Facebook ultimately didn’t allow Craner’s team to affect profile pages, Café Rio did use a modified version of the food fight app to great success, Craner says. When users were slingshotted, boomeranged or ninja punched with casual Mexican fare, they were more apt to use the app in retribution. The game spurred top-of-mind awareness of Café Rio, precisely the outcome Craner had in mind.

The food fight example illustrates the true relevance of Facebook apps. Because the site is a social experience, people are turned off by the hard sell—it’s like someone shouting propaganda into your living room while you chat with friends. So, instead, successful apps focus on the one thing Facebook can offer any business in a social context—awareness.

“The minute you start feeling preached to, people tune out,” says Andrew Howlett, president and CEO of Rain, a marketing agency headquartered in American Fork. “The question everyone asks is, ‘Everyone’s on Facebook, but how do we monetize that?’ The answer, we’ve found, is to join the conversation.”

Rain followed its own advice in crafting a Facebook app for Cheezit. Most people didn’t realize that the snack cracker had more than a dozen flavors in addition to its popular cheddar cheese, so Rain developed a campaign to personify each flavor. These characters then petitioned Facebook users for votes in an election, each advocating its unique attributes—“Hot and Spicy” was, well, hot and spicy, and “Monterey Jack” was smooth.

The campaign netted some 60 million votes, increased awareness of Cheezit’s various flavors, and Cheezit reported increased revenue in direct correlation with the campaign.

Strategic Fit
Because of Facebook’s massive audience and ability to segment and target it digitally, marketers might be tempted to treat it as their default tool for everything from branding to direct sales. The best Facebook apps, however, recognize the particular niche they play in a larger strategic vision. Part of that strategic context is reflecting the brand personality. Tempting though it might be to hijack what’s working for someone else, Facebook users can sense an inauthentic campaign a mile away.

When Rain took on the task of creating a campaign for the sports apparel company Under Armour, it was clear that a Facebook app would help drive awareness of the brand’s new charged cotton line. In keeping with the intense brand image, Rain developed a photo booth that snapped a picture of the person surrounded by lightning bolts. The booth was unveiled at the Super Bowl (the campaign’s spokesperson was NFL quarterback Tom Brady) and rolled into a Facebook app. The images that started popping up tied neatly into Under Armour’s brand personality.

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