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6 Ways Financial Institutions Can Simplify Copy

Simplify Financial Copy

Finance isn’t simple. Unless you’re armed with a handy jargon cheat sheet, ‘Compound Interest’ and ‘The Rule of 72’ just sound like bad action movies. So for those of us who can’t leave a tip without a calculator, pinpointing something like the appropriate amount for a home equity line of credit can be overwhelming. What does this mean for financial institutions in our digital world? Consumers are searching for straightforward content, and whoever has easy-to-understand copy wins.

How can financial institutions simplify their copy? 

1.  Jargon-proof your copy.

Nothing scares a consumer more than confusion. Believe it or not, not everyone knows the difference between APY and APR, especially millennials as they age into the market for mortgages, car loans and other financial products. Spelling out acronyms and offering short definitions can be the difference between closing the tab and clicking “open account.” Vanguard spells out exchange-traded funds on first mention, rather than simply saying ETFs. Then, they give an overview of what this means as well as how to choose which is right for you. By skipping the technical language, brands can build trust.

2. Show real-life examples.

Consumers want to know, “What exactly is in this for me?” Often, financial services can seem abstract or uniform compared to services offered by other institutions. By helping the consumer see real-life use, it’s easier to establish need. For example, Simple doesn’t say, “We track spending in your checking account.” They say, “Goals and Safe-to-Spend go hand in hand to help you control and understand spending while making sure you have enough to pay the bills-and maybe even save up for something special.” That way, the reader doesn’t just see a digital service — they see secure rent and a fridge full of groceries.

3. Keep it short and sweet.

Big chunks of text can make simple copy seem complex. Be sure to cut empty copy and see what can be said in fewer words. Break up copy with more paragraphs and punctuation. Splitting sentences doesn’t always save space, but it does improve readability. That’s why Mint’s website reads, “Bills? Paid. Don’t miss a bill again. See and pay your bills on one place.” That’s much better than “With the ability to view bills and make payments on the same website, you’ll be less likely to incur late payment fees,” right?

4. Just come out and say it.

Honesty is the fastest route to credibility. If consumers feel like they need a microscope to spot the difference between services, the choice won’t be made with confidence. After all, value can’t be built if consumers aren’t sure what a service is. While Gateway Bank offers multiple checking accounts, each is identifiable through simple headlines and copy that explains which account best suits different life stages and needs. Because “people who just want the basics” have different needs than teachers or retirees.

5. Get personal.

In 2013, Pew Research Center reported that 51 percent of Americans chose online banking over in-store. This means less representatives sharing brand values and walking customers through financial processes. And you know what? A human touch brings simplicity to difficult or new processes. Incorporate personality reflective of a brand’s voice and tone, and offer additional help through straightforward calls to action. GoBank adds personality to copy with short lines like “Psst… you can also find free nearby ATMs with our mobile app.” Personality can lighten financial copy, as well as encourage consumers to follow along to the next step.

6. Speak the customers’ language.

Not only does speaking the customers’ language help readers understand copy, it boosts search optimization. By using phrases customers are already searching for, you can better drive traffic to your online content. Google Hummingbird picks up on conversational queries, like “How do I open a bank account?” So think about how customers speak and ask questions, then provide copy to match. To give users the most accurate search results, pinpoint which pages should use which keywords and phrases. Don’t overuse them — over-optimizing your content does more damage than it does good.

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IQ Spotlight: Sarah Giarratana, Copywriter

IQ Spotlight Sarah G

IQ is made up of a bunch of rockstars that make incredible work for our clients everyday. We want to give you a glimpse of what it’s like to work in IQ, so every other Friday we’re going to interview an IQ-er and let you get to know them better.

For the official record, what is your name and your title at IQ?

My name is Sarah Giarratana and I’m a Copywriter.

What’s your superpower?

Probably being empathetic? I try to be really in tune with how other people feel, and I try to live my life empathy first.

What have you learned from the people you’ve worked with at IQ?

I think learning to stop overwriting. I know that sounds so simple, but learning how to work with designers and UX-ers to optimize text has helped. When the design and the copy are balanced it makes the experience of whatever we’re creating so much better.

Tell me about the moment you knew this was the direction you wanted to pursue professionally.

I actually started out interning in project management. But I found out that I was really a terrible PM. But I found some great mentors who shared their secrets of copywriting with me. And I just kept learning and writing copy and getting better, and now I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I like the advertising industry, and I love watching how communication has changed and the role of a copywriter is becoming more of a content creation role, and that keeps me challenged and motivated.

What does “Creative Intelligence” mean to you?

The “Intelligence” is the cake itself, and “Creative” is the icing. They can exist separately, but when they come together they make a beautiful cake. And let’s face it, cake is delicious. That being said sometimes you just need a spoon and a tub full of icing. Right, my creative peeps?

Do you have a personal motto?

I think it’s tied between what I said earlier about living “Empathy first” and also “positivity is self-fulfilling.” Even when life gets hard, I find that when I choose positivity, it chooses me back.

Quickfire:

Spring or Fall?

Fall.

Comedy or Mystery?

Drama.

Freckles or Dimples?

Both.

Questions: Asking or Answering?

Asking. Definitely asking.

Picnic or Restaurant?

Restaurant.

Now you know a little more about Sarah Giarratana!

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The End of Words?

End of Words -TQ

While the essence of a brand still involves a logo, a look, hopefully a differentiated position, and maybe even an enduring idea, it has become so much more thanks to technology and the new consumer. But while so much has changed, the fundamentals of the way people emotionally connect to other people, ideas, products and solutions are unchanged as they have been for eons. This is important to remember as we fight to stay connected to an always fast-evolving consumer. People haven’t changed. Our behavior may be new, but our motivations are ancient.

Simon Sinek talks about how brands need to answer the overarching question of why they do what they do. As he eloquently explains, money as an answer is not good enough. While “what” a brands does and “how” it does it is very important, according to Sinek, it is the brands that have a defining mission of some sort that have lasting resonance.

In the past much of this brand focus has been translated into the words a brand used in its adverting and communications. Words were the keys to a brand finding its place in the word. That’s why a positioning statement that could define a brand’s relative position in the consumer’s mind was considered so important for so long.  This focus on words was a reflection of the way companies distilled their ideas into communications and translated that in advertising. Of course sound and imagery was important too, but with fewer, simpler channels, words most often led the charge.

Fast forward to today and the electronic age in all its digital glory has ushered in a visual experience that has overwhelmed words. Screens surround the modern consumer, and screens scream out for images. Unlike words, and similar to music, images don’t need to be translated into meaning in the same way language does. We can look at an image or see a video and without any words feel the meaning. This direct consumption uses parts of our brain that are far older and more elemental than our higher thinking capabilities. Our immediate responses to imagery are, as a friend recently described, “reptilian,” appealing to elemental motivations of fear, desire, love and so on.

Now as I see more and more brands resort to imagery vs. words to communicate, the imagery being used naturally leans towards those that evoke emotional triggers. At the same time the digital camera has flooded the world with our own images of every second of our lives from cradle to grave. The result is a visual tsunami is already immersing us in a more sensory world. How it changes the marketers mission to influence consumers remains to be seen. Man has not led with images since the middle ages, before the advent of the printing press, and it will be one of the more important new dynamics for marketers to understand as we move beyond these early days of the new age of pictures.

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IQ team members earned bronze at the Adobe Creative Jam in Atlanta.

IQ entry Adobe Creative Jam

Two IQ team members, ACD Carol Montoto and Designer Aleena Khan, represented IQ at the Adobe Creative Jam last Thursday in Atlanta. The ‘Jam invited designers, illustrators and students from around Atlanta to go head-to-head in a competition to make something amazing using Adobe products. It also gathered a crowd of enthusiastic spectators who enjoyed snacks, drinks and speakers while the teamed worked.

Four speakers took the stage, including Aleena who shared some of her work done for the Museum of Design Atlanta. Guests were also invited to watch the teams as they worked in an open space. With floor-length glass windows, spectators could walk by and watch the teams work. Carol described the process as something between a zoo and a museum, in the funniest and best way.

To learn a little more about the experience, we sat down with Carol and Aleena with a few questions.

What was your favorite part of the ‘Jam?

ALEENA: Probably the peanut M&M’s. Also, meeting Adobe evangelists Paul Trani and Terry White, both of who create awesome and in-depth tutorials on Adobe products. (Everything I know I about InDesign I learned from Terry.)

You ended up designing a hilarious banana-themed wallpaper. Why?

CAROL: We were asked to use a Dr. Seuss quote about standing out as inspiration. From the quote about fitting in we saw people walking in the same direction, something redundant, like clones, like a pattern. So we thought, what has a pattern? Immediately, wallpaper came to mind. It wasn’t interesting to us to do a design without a function, so we decided to give it a function and made wallpaper. That spiraled and we took it one step further and just stuck it in ad for IKEA.

You were one of two teams who ended up with an advertisement. What’s the logic behind that?

ALEENA: We’re in advertising! And it only makes sense to do what we do best. We loved the idea of creating something useful, and a product for designers seemed like a great way to do that. Also we did whatever we had to do to incorporate bananas because why the hell not?

What team’s work did you admire most?

CAROL: The Moxie team that won did an amazing job with their illustrations. I was really impressed.

ALEENA: 22squared really put something amazing together, and it was clear they were both very talented at creating conceptual photo manipulations. The team was made up of Louie Zuniga and Mark Damiano.

How would you like to see Adobe’s Creative Jams grow?

ALEENA: To be honest, host it in the morning! When we’re all fresh.

CAROL: I would love to see them actually include writers. Even though they’re not using Photoshop, their work isn’t really possible without the Adobe products. They always work with a designer and art director. Aleena and I brainstormed a lot and it would have been wonderful to have a copywriter in brainstorm, because that’s not exclusive to just designers. It would have been fun to see how clever the stuff could have been. Pushing it beyond just the visual approach. Or for a different visual approach, they could invite photographers and retouchers. Really, it’s just great to see people from different fields get involved in the creative process.

 

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  • 12.17.14

Head to Head:

IQ designers duke it out over “how to” or “how to not” follow a brand’s style guide.

Head to Head Style Guide Design

Point: The Type-A Guide to Following Design Rules

By: Lauren Weir, Sr. Designer

Our creative team nominated me to write the point of the article — establishing why you should stick to brand guidelines and how to work creatively within them. And while I’ll give you that I’m the type of person who neatly orders my pens, keeps a daily game plan on my signature yellow notepads and may or may not be easily compared with Monica from FRIENDS, I still have fun and sometimes I show up to work in a banana suit. I just think of brand guidelines like a pair of moon shoes — sometimes kind of clunky, but they help you jump to new heights. They’re also infinitely cool.

Brand guidelines are so important to designing for a brand because they explain and uphold the values and importance of the brand for which you are designing. A strong brand will help increase recognition and brand loyalty, which is directly related to a company’s success and profitability. As Smashing Magazine points out, brands have to reach people through so many different platforms that recognition is critical. As designers, if we do not help a company clearly communicate their messages and uphold the definition of their brand then the brand will start to develop on its own through customer opinions in spaces like social — and we all know how that can go south pretty quickly.

How to stick it to the Book:

  1. Make sure you and your client have a complete understanding of the brand guidelines. Take time to go through the guidelines with your client and ask questions. By sitting down for a conversation first, you’re avoiding the future problems that could arise if the brand guide has any holes. Figure out how strict the guidelines are and what will still be considered within the guidelines if it is not explicitly stated. This will give you a clear understanding where the designs can start to move forward. You can also for a clear idea of what to measure your design successes on and give you, as a designer ground to justify the designs you have produced. You can become a design partner for your client, making recommendations for their design in the future, rather than just a production artist for what they envision for their brand.
  2. Experiment within your limits. Think mixing different martinis, rather than making a mix drink with gin, Bailey’s and Chardonnay. Creating and following parameters set by guidelines can give you the chance to try a ton of experiments on different pieces to create interesting designs that relate back to the brand. For example, within a color scheme, try combining the colors in a different way or in different proportions to create something that is different than what is expected. Sometimes the most successful designs come from a new or updated perspective on already existing guidelines.  Guidelines can help you narrow down what areas to experiment in, rather than spending all of your time looking at the endless design options. Put your design energy in the right places, rather than the places that are already defined.
  3. Measure back to the guidelines. Keep brand goals, audience needs, key messages, and brand personality central to each and every decision made in designing for the brand. It is easier to justify your design decisions because the client has already approved their guidelines. Once you can design really well and with new ideas within the limitations given by the client, you can clearly understand the best way to adapt the brand to new platforms (social, mail, web, etc). The most successful and gratifying design systems work show a strong brand voice and visual style across multiple mediums without becoming too repetitive.

There are many brands out there whose designers rely heavily on the visual guidelines and still create some badass designs. Like these:

Counterpoint: How to Design Outside the Style Guide (and not get caught)

By: Carol Montoto, Associate Creative Director

So I was nominated to write this counterpoint by my team. I guess they see me as that annoying creative who just won’t stick to a style guide. Maybe that’s slightly true, but I see a style guide as just a guide and not an end-all-be-all. It’s tough exploring creative directions to take a brand without wandering outside the style guide a bit. Rebellious design superhero, Paula Scher, talked about guidelines at the Adobe Max Conference (13:00).“Guidelines are difficult things because they’re rules that prevent bad things from happening, but they don’t really promote good things TO happen.”

It’s not that I think designers should irresponsibly blow off style guides and have a creative free-for-all. But as creative experts, it’s our job to ask questions, challenge the rules when necessary, and push our creativity beyond its limits. Personally, it’s my favorite part of the job. The key is to use brand guidelines to maintain the spirit of a brand. As long as your brand remains consistent, recognizable and the design doesn’t suffer, the guide has accomplished its goal. As John Moore from Idea Sandbox put it, “A Brand Style Guide is essentially an internal communication compass. It provides guidance on how a business should communicate the Identity, Personality, and Authenticity of a brand.”

Common Style Guide Challenges

There are some style guide challenges every designer is familiar with. An incomplete style guide is the most common. Its creator can’t predict what all the uses for it might be in the future. For example, often it is created for print, not for digital. This leaves important brand details such as color (CMYK versus RGB), and fonts (web-friendly) up for debate. The ridiculously strict, 598-page style guide is just as tough to work with. As blogger Geri Coady explains, “Guides can be so strict that it can be virtually impossible to introduce a little creativity.” If you are spending more time measuring pixels than exploring creative directions, just take a step back. The last thing you want to do is kill any amazing ideas you have because they might not exactly fit the style guide. Sometimes, the style guide looks like the ugliest pair of moon shoes you’ve ever seen. If following the style guide is forcing you to make bad design decisions, you’ll need to bend the rules a bit, for everyone’s sake. Chances are that making some small tweaks will vastly improve the design without looking off-brand. If you can pull this off while keeping the brand police happy, nice job.

How to Design Outside the Style Guide:

  1. Know the rules before you break them. Read the style guide. Thoroughly. Really get to know it. THEN you’re ready to challenge the rules. You’ll need to have a good reason for doing so, not just because you think it’s fun to break rules. (Sorry.)
  2. When in doubt, share your thoughts with your client. Even something as small as an inverted white logo on a dark background may just have never come up for a brand. Crazy, I know. If you want to challenge the style guide, why not just talk with your client? Paula Scher suggests making your client a co-conspirator with you (16:52). Be up front and explain to them why you need to deviate from the brand guidelines. You’d be surprised how effective this can be.
  3. Don’t let the style guide become a design crutch. At the end of the day, people will see the final product and NOT the style guide you are following, no matter how beautiful that guide may be. Don’t be afraid to push the creative. The brand police will rein you in if necessary.

Above all else, just remember, “I was just following the style guide” is not an excuse for bad or boring design. Have fun and rebel — responsibly.

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  • 11.04.14

Mobile First Website Design

by Jay Littman

Mobile First

When it comes to responsive design, the concept of mobile first is not a new one. It was first coined by Luke Wroblewski (LukeW) in 2009.  However, as time goes on, it only becomes more apparent how important designing with mobile in mind will continue to be.

As of February of this year, Americans use tablets, phones, and other mobile devices 55 percent of the time they go online.  At IQ, we’re no strangers to responsive projects. We want to ensure that this huge portion of our clients’ traffic is able to access their sites without anything breaking. But we do have internal debates over which should come first: desktop design or mobile?

I tend to vote for mobile first. We know designing for mobile is important, but why design for mobile first? There’s several reasons to explore:

1. Forced Focus

Designing mobile first forces you to focus. Because when designing for mobile, you want the quickest loading time possible. That means cutting out anything unnecessary to the user experience, paring down a site hierarchy to the essentials, and keeping the core purpose of a site as the only content left standing.  Designing for mobile first requires designing the simplest, quickest method to get the user to what they want from your site. Then, in desktop versions, expanding upon that design while keeping those core functions top of mind.

2. Smaller Real Estate, Bigger Design Challenge

One of the key elements of designing for mobile, and also possibly the most intimidating, is that space is limited on a phone screen. Mobile design is the tiny NYC apartment where you end up using the oven for storage if you don’t plan for your small space. But if you do plan ahead, you can end up with a space that is streamlined and incredibly elegant. I will admit that this is not an easy endeavor, but your designs will be better for it.

3. Enhancements versus Degradation

Let’s get a bit technical. When you design for desktop first, it means loading all of the content that would be seen on the largest platform and then reducing it to the mobile version. The trouble is your user already had to wait for all that content to load on their smartphone before they can get to the mobile version of the site… if they indeed waited and didn’t just close the page out to find something else. Designing for mobile first means allows a minimal amount of content to load first, streamlining the experience. This is a lot faster and means your site gets enhancements as it moves up to desktop, instead of degradations of content when moving down to mobile.

These are some of the things we consider when beginning a website design project here at IQ. This method may help you find a few ways to improve your user experience all over, not just on mobile. So on your next site design project, try starting with mobile first and see where this aspect of creative intelligence takes you.

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Dear Brands, You’ll Never Be Potato Salad

advice on viral for brands

 

The Internet is a strange thing; so strange, in fact, that a man asking for $10 to help him make potato salad for the first time has resulted in over $50,000 in a Kickstarter campaign that has gone viral. And why? His appeal wasn’t one based on need (he wasn’t starving). He didn’t promise to feed the hungry. He literally just wanted to try to make potato salad. And the Internet thought he should be able to make a lot of it.

Brands spend millions of dollars every year paying agencies for content aimed at going “viral” in a similar way, and it almost never does. The ask from these brands has become so normalized that social content is often just called “viral content.” The ask sounds something like this: “We want to create a viral video.” What they mean is that they want to create a video intended specifically for the Internet, usually YouTube. But when it gets uploaded, it gets a few hundred views and the agency that made it cashes a nice check. The brand gets very little in return.

I have a word of advice for you: stop. You aren’t a potato salad Kickstarter. Your brand is not a random phenomenon; it is carefully crafted. Your brand is also not human. Consumers know both of these things and so the content you publish, the campaigns you launch, are expected to be of the highest quality. The chances that you’ll create something that is so different from what is expected that gets shared millions of times is really really small. It happens, but rarely.

Instead of spending millions of dollars constantly creating content in hopes of something resonating, create content with utility. Unless you are a brand in an entertainment category, understanding the questions consumers have and providing solutions will do much more for your business.

Lowe’s does this really well. Its Vine account is a case study in strategic early adoption of an emerging channel, and its use of YouTube is really effective.

Alternatively, if you are set on reaching a million+ people with a single piece of content, partner with an influencer who already has a large audience to create content on your behalf. Ford has done this really well on YouTube.

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  • 05.02.14

Quick-Step Style Launch

Quick-Step Style Launch

As part of a strategy to re-invigorate the Quick-Step brand, IQ re-imagined the Quick-Step Style blog from the ground up, starting with a fully responsive, mobile-ready design. You can see more details here.

IQ created a blog with greater design flexibility, a fresh look, social integration, and updated content. A more simple layout with pops of color in the images and videos for posts make the new blog easier to navigate for users. There are now five categories of posts to choose from for consumers to tailor their experience. The blog features Quick-Steps products designer, Erinn Valencich, and was relaunched in conjunction with the first episode of NBC’s “American Dream Builders,” a design reality competition show Erinn is a contestant on.

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4 Reasons to Kiss Your Agency this Valentine’s Day

4 reasons to kiss your agency

If you don’t love your agency, you should. Life’s too short to have an agency that makes you miserable.

The fastest way to marketing bliss, however, is not just a likable agency, but also an agency that has the ability to help your brand win the digitally centric consumer.

It’s amazing to me that digital is still an after-thought for so many, even though it has clearly become the center of the marketing universe. I think it’s just because many agencies and their clients don’t know how to comprehensively go about planning for it, and instead seem to lurch from tactic to tactic.

For example, does your agency exhaust the possibilities of Owned media (websites/mobile/CRM/SEO) and Earned media (social media/content syndication) before they dive into the pricey waters of Paid media (broadcast/print/banners)? Of course, they should.  But before anyone starts worrying about tactics, you first need a strategy that will work.

Today digital is so central that any agency that isn’t developing a digitally centric strategy is living in the past. Whether it’s B2C or B2B, consumers discover, explore, evaluate and decide on brands in digital channels. So even though TV, print and outdoor ads are still important, their role in the orchestrated process of influencing a buying decision has changed.

The reality today for marketers is simple: creative and execution today are worthless unless led by the right strategy; almost invariably now a digitally centric strategy.

So as you consider your Valentine’s list make sure your agency has done the following:

1.     Develop segments and personas for your buyers

The consumer is king and needs to be super-served. So you need to identify your target segments and turn them into personas, which allow you to understand what makes them tick.

2.     Map the Consumer Decision Journey for each persona

The path to purchase and beyond is where brands are made or broken, and it’s packed with influences. The only way to know how to connect with consumers at every step along the way is to understand what is important to them at each juncture; and you have to do it for every major persona because they are all different.

3.     Develop a content strategy

Being in the right place at the right time is the first challenge. Then you have to know exactly what to say in order to be relevant and compelling at that particular moment. Content strategy is the bible for your agency, and tells them what to say and how to say it at every point in the consumer decision journey.

4.     Make a Roadmap and Playbook

When you have personas, a map of their decision journey and have a content strategy in hand, you then need to turn it into a plan. This lays out what you should do and when you should do it in detail. For each tactic it shows the rationale for its inclusion, how it ladders up to the strategy, what specific results and ROI are expected, what it will cost, how performance will be measured, what resources are needed and the dates for development and launch.

Most importantly it prioritizes tactics and initiatives over time recognizing that Rome wasn’t built in a day. It not only covers the campaigns and promotions you need to activate the audience, but also the infrastructure you need to make it all work, from websites to mobile apps and POS.

I couldn’t imagine any client moving forward except in the context of these four steps. I suppose every now and then a brand might bet everything on a spot on the Super Bowl and hit it out of the park, but usually the Hail Mary pass fails.

That’s why there is no substitute for a rigorous, digitally centric strategic process. Nothing delivers a reliable stream of prospects like smart strategy, so if you’ve got one, remember to give your agency a big kiss this Valentine’s Day.

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What’s Social Currency Worth?

tqimage1

It seems Marc Jacobs and his marketers are going to find out. His new pop-up store in New York for his Daisy fragrance doesn’t taking folding money, only social currency. In order to get something like perfume or a necklace you have to send a Tweet or an Instagram photo, or post something on Facebook. Visitors that “pay” with social activity win prizes and the best Instagram pic of the day even gets a purse.

Somehow I don’t think you’re going to be buying a car with a Tweet anytime soon, but this story does point up the value of social currency. Getting customers and prospects to “talk” your brand up in social media is worth a lot. The average person using Facebook and Twitter has hundreds of connections and their connections have connections and so on. It’s the cheapest marketing that money can’t buy.

That’s right, you can’t buy it, the only way to get it is to inspire it and that takes ideas. Marc Jacobs and his crew clearly have some ideas.

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