Iâ€™m a sucker for a good marketing idea. Probably because there are a lot of bad ones.
This year at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Google came up with a doozie of a good one for their Android operating system. In fact, a few good ones. Dissecting the Android approach to driving traffic to their stand is fascinating. So I thought Iâ€™d unpack that a little, both because itâ€™s fun and because it gives us a little insight into why Google are so consistently great at what they do.
Itâ€™s also glaringly obvious that Android was orders of magnitude better promoted than Windows 7. Microsoft were not invisible, but they were comprehensively outdone by Google this time round.
The first and most formidable promotional idea — one that got me and my girlfriend totally hooked — was the little Android badges. These were given to all Android â€œpartnersâ€ to give out at their respective stands. There were about 20 partners scattered all around the congress site, and it meant a lot of walking to go see them all. They were easy to identify, however, with a prominently displayed Android â€œmanâ€ — about a foot tall (see second picture below) — holding a bowl full of the badges.
Now, these were not dicky little plastic badges, but solid metal with brightly coloured resiny designs on the front (see first picture below). So they looked good, stood out when pinned to someoneâ€™s lapel, and they drew attraction to themselves, not least for their bold â€œAndroid greenâ€ colour. They started appearing on Day 1 of the event, and we soon cottoned on to the fact that you were supposed to go collect them all. In total there were 86 different ones to collect, and they all looked cool!
To cut a long story short I ended up with close to 40 of them. The larger stand holders got new badges every day, and the Android stand itself would regularly offer a â€œspecialâ€, such as a Valentineâ€™s Day one with a little red heart on the first day. Unaware of how the â€œgameâ€ was played that early in the event, we missed out on that badge, and weâ€™re not happy!
As my badges collected on the seatbelt-style strap of my computer bag, people would stop me and ask about them or be seen laughing to each other about them as I passed by. And as most people worked out that badge collecting was fun to do, it all started to look like a feeding frenzy every morning when new badges were on offer. Some stall holders were clearly getting tired of the â€œnuisance callsâ€ from people like me.
But donâ€™t miss the point: you couldnâ€™t miss the little green men! They were everywhere. All kinds of people — whether Android partners or not — were wearing little Android pins on their clothing or bags. Android was impossible to miss, and Android was getting talked about.
The Android Stand
In branding colour matters. And so it was that the Android stand was awash with the particular lime green of the Android logo. Now, the little mascot is a short R2D2-style character and he was everywhere too. There were figurines to put on table-tops, human-sized ones, animated ones on the big screen rising above the stand, and a huge one that was actually the roof and exterior of a smoothie stand. Free smoothies!
The Android stand was at least the size of a basketball court, and interestingly enough, not as big as a number of other stalls at MWC, but abuzz with activity constantly. Visitors and Android app creators milled around presentation stands, playing with devices and making a lot of noise. All app partners were dressed in t-shirts, reinforcing the brand consistently.
The Free Stuff is the Good Stuff
One thing thatâ€™s always been a part of Google culture, as I understand it, is â€œfreeâ€. Theyâ€™re pretty generous to their staff and they have a habit of buying a company that sold a given product and then giving that same thing out for free. Think Urchin, say.
So â€œfreeâ€ was the deal at MWC too. From free Android pins, to free smoothies (and yes, they were yummy!), to free bottles of water by the self-serve fridge-full, to a free â€œMini Meâ€ creator where you could stand at a tablet and use a custom app to design an Android version of yourself. I’ve included an example in the gallery below.
Now freeâ€™s great but even better is free and fun. And last I checked, a badge â€œhuntâ€ is fun; free smoothies are fun; a Mini Me creation app (and free print-outs) is fun. And in case you were still looking for more, they even had a slide (picture below), where you could slither down from the upper balcony to the ground level on a kidsâ€™ playground slide and there would be a free photo of you embarrassing yourself waiting at the counter within minutes. Yes, I gave that a go too.
How Not to Do it
Itâ€™s instructive to compare what Android did to what most other stand-holders did. Most all of them gave something away from free, but it was a product brochure. Yawn. Or it was one of the lowest-common-denominators of â€œschwagâ€ like branded pens or keyrings. Double yawn. If you were hungry, every second stand offered free nibblies, and they were almost all the same — micro pastries or boiled lollies. Snore.
Most of the major brands and manufacturers went to great lengths to create impressive stands and product displays, but the impression they mostly gave was one of sterility and professionalism: lots of shiny stuff, bright lights and polished surfaces. Lots of sterile tech bling. By comparison the Android stand had moreso the feel of a fun house. And the fun was in the detail. I mean, consider this: the smoothie stand put two green straws in each smoothie cup, facing away from each other, to match the antennae of the Android logo. Simple but both smart and… fun!
So what was the difference? Innovative thinking, bold thinking and doing something free, fun and different! It really reminded me of how lazy so many companies were, in terms of thinking through their strategy of in-event promotions. One thing the Android people really understood (and no doubt paid for) was that you can find ways to promote yourself that extend outside the perimeter of your allocated stand space. Of course, posters and such will do it, but people do it better. No, not scantily clad girls on roller skates, but Joe Average event participant whoâ€™s been compelled to join in your â€œfree funâ€ and is virally infecting others with it. Think about it.
What are the Take Aways for You?
By most peopleâ€™s standards, Google is a mega-wealthy company. But donâ€™t think thatâ€™s why they did better with their Android stand than everyone else at the show. I donâ€™t think it was the money. I think it was a disciplined approach to having better ideas than everyone else. I think it comes back to Googleâ€™s core value of rigorous ideation. I mean, what does it cost to exhaustively and creatively brainstorm an idea with a room full of highly talented and skilled people?
Do not be intimidated by this! No matter your company size or your event budget, for goodness sake, make the time to get your best minds together and hammer out the ideas. Developed a disciplined approach to brainstorming, and value ideation and creative thinking. If you make that process fun then you stand a chance of coming up with some fun strategies too! It stands to reason, doesnâ€™t it?
The Android stand scored the most on the â€œfun scaleâ€ because Google as a company values fun more than others did! Itâ€™s a values thing. The Android stand was best promoted at MWC because Google as a company works the hardest to come up with the ideas — many months out from the event. And itâ€™s not a budget or manpower thing… itâ€™s a values thing!
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