3 Blogs: Spotify, Engadget, and Anthony Bourdain

For this week’s post I’ll be highlighting and talking a little about three blogs that I recently discovered–the music app Spotify’s news blog, the collaborative tech news blog Engadget, and Anthony Bourdain’s travel blog on Tumblr. Without any further ado, let’s jump right in with…

Spotify

Spotify blog
A news feed post announces the arrival of Spotify Running on Android.

Spotify’s blog is a hybrid in purpose. It serves primarily to keep Spotify users up-to-date on the goings-on at Spotify, the music and artists the app hosts, and updates to the app itself as well as its services. On some level, it’s a niche news blog, but the blog team also posts about the Spotify community (“Life at Spotify”), music previews, artist interviews, marketing, contests and so on, so it’s mainly a professional blog representing the company, its employees, and product.

Spotify blog follow user
The White House has its own official playlists, and you can follow them on the app or right here on the blog.

What makes Spotify’s blog unique in some regard is that it also serves as a host for the downloadable app that the blog is all about. So, if someone who doesn’t use a music and radio app searches for any such service, should they come across Spotify’s blog, they don’t have to go to its main website to get the app. On that note, Spotify’s shareable blog posts (the blog is connected to Facebook and Twitter) make it easy for potential news users to discover Spotify on social media and to find the downloadable app right as they follow a link and land on the blog. Additionally, the blog provides instant Spotify follow buttons on posts featuring a real user’s playlist, such as the “White House” playlist, put together by President Obama himself.

skullcandy-logo
Skullcandy is the brand partner I would want to see. The logo even agrees with Spotify’s aesthetic, which favors black, white, and green. (Image source)

Spotify pops up pretty high in Google search results, along with comparably popular apps such as Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Jango. As I mentioned before, it’s also well integrated with Facebook and Twitter. Its posts are made more alluring by interesting photos of musicians and artists, the Spotify team, and screenshots of shiny, new app features. There isn’t any real advertising on the blog–after all, it’s really Spotify advertising Spotify–but if there were third-party ads, I’d expect the obvious. Skullcandy earbuds, Beats headphones, or maybe (strong emphasis on maybe) a concert ticket vendor like Ticketfly would make appropriate placements. Any kind of hip tech or related service that supports popular music would do, but I can’t say whether Spotify needs or wants to go that route. The lack of ads also strengthens the brand’s identity online. After all, ad-free music is the number one feature of the “Spotify Premium” upgrade.

Overall, I’d say Spotify’s blog is successful. It’s updated often, there’s plenty of original content, the brand embraces IMC, and it’s easy to connect to and follow. The visual design is a little plain, in my opinion. I’m used to seeing the cool layout of Spotify’s desktop app, and it makes the blog layout a little boring in comparison.

Engadget

Engadget homepage
On the homepage you’ll see share buttons galore, and large, attractive images that link to full articles.

Engadget is quite different. It’s an online magazine that operates like a news blog. Engadget focuses on technology news–everything from smartphones and videogames to light pollution and “robo-babies”. Its posts come from a number of contributors and its news feed updates pretty frequently. In fact, several fresh stories have popped up since I last checked the site just a few hours ago. The content is also diverse and interesting. It’s not fair to call Engadget “primarily a mobile device blog” or “mostly a videogame blog”. These writers talk about anything tech. I think that’s the first thing I liked about Engadget, and what lends it uniqueness. Something else worth mentioning is that not only does the magazine / blog have a high follower count on Facebook and Twitter, it offers the same content in multiple languages (check out its Spanish Facebook page and Japanese Twitter account).

Engadget from mobile
Here’s the view on mobile: a smooth, simple stream of recent article titles and their featured images.

I think it’s appropriate that Engadget’s logo incorporate’s the universal wifi / wireless communications symbol (left), because the blog itself is structured with its target audience in mind. The first thing you see when you land on Engadget’s homepage is a ton of links (videos first), followed by clickable news articles, and share buttons abound. The magazine is all about tech, and their blog makes well-rounded use of social apps and engaging links. This design philosophy suits the brand image and facilitates the news consumption habits of readers, who, no doubt, are visiting via smartphone, tablet, and other such gadgets–you know, the ones that put the “gadget” in “Engadget”.

I noticed a conservative amount of ads on the blog. The most prominent was a large banner ad for Qualcomm (a 3G and next-gen mobile technology company). There were also a few credit related ads for Citi and Equifax, as well as an ad for Marriott. This tells me the blog likely targets readers no younger than about 24 or 25 years old, and appeals to professionals who may be on-the-go or may have to travel on business.

Engadget spanish facebook
Engadget’s Facebook page for Spanish-speaking readers.

Overall, I’d say this is the most successful blog on the list. Its IMC approach is clearly well-devised. I’m especially impressed that it integrates with channels that cater to foreign language audiences. Its content is interesting and fresh, and its contributors make it easy to connect with them on Twitter. I’ve tried to find a weakness, but I don’t honestly think any additions or subtractions from the current design are necessary. The blog offers just enough without overwhelming.

Anthony Bourdain

anthony-bourdain-no-reservations
The No Reservations title shot (image source).

If you’ve ever watched the TV series No Reservations, Parts Unknown, or The Layover, you already know who Anthony Bourdain is, and it’s easy to guess what his Tumblr blog is about–travel, and all the food, culture, and political context that entails. However, Bourdain’s blog isn’t really just a travel blog. I’m considering it to be a professional blog not only because Bourdain, by profession, is a traveling writer / journalist (and chef), but also because, 1) Anthony Bourdain is essentially his own brand, and 2) Bourdain’s blog is, to some degree, an extension of his television shows. This is to say that the quality of his blogging meets an obviously (much) higher-than-recreational standard, and is affiliated with companies, Scripps Networks Interactive and Cox Communications, but most directly,  the Travel Channel.

Bourdain blog home
Sometimes, less truly is more.

This blog is the least cluttered of the three I’ve featured; in fact, there’s zero clutter. The page is nothing more than Bourdain’s neatly arranged travel pieces, associated photos, contact and social media links in the right margin, and a simple profile picture crowning an “about this blog” style quote. It’s clean, straightforward, and journalistic. No nonsense. It suits the brand  (Bourdain’s persona) and almost reminds me of a design philosophy I’d see in a single-page piece in National Geographic, only simpler. It may not appeal to some bloggers, but I like it, and here’s why:

  1. It doesn’t try to do the job of other channels. In Bourdain’s case, his Tumblr blog is probably not the first place you’ve seen him. The Travel Channel (television) is the medium that’s doing all the pushing. Bourdain’s blog is more of an outlet to receive the pulled crowd. It’s a neatly organized source of information for anyone looking to see some “behind-the-scenes” material, Bourdain’s books, or “Spare Parts Unknown” (a music blog that pairs with the shows).
  2. All the IMC connections are there, and easy to use. Want to follow Anthony Bourdain on Facebook or Twitter? Every link you need is tucked up in the top right corner. The blog is already being hosted on Tumblr, so sharing on that platform is built right in.
  3. It showcases a brand / public figure’s persona without undermining the artist. In other words, the blog makes it clear that it’s affiliated with the shows you already know and love, but there are no advertisements, a pretty unique quality. This is a case where what’s missing, at first glance, probably doesn’t need to be there anyway. I’m glad I didn’t see palm-tree-and-azure-sky-filled images bearing the Travel Channel logo all over the margins. The blog stays true to its goals and brand while keeping what doesn’t really need to be there at arm’s length. TV, Facebook, Twitter, and Bourdain’s Instagram are all doing a fine job of pushing, but there does need to be one channel that can catch the curious fans away from all the noise.

So, what do you think? Visit the comments below and let me know what other great blogs I should be following or featuring in the future. Oh, and there’s a fun poll below. Take some time to go click on it!

 

 

Revisiting Steam: A Look At Push and Pull Marketing

Last week, I posted an article about Steam, the social gaming platform by Valve Corporation. In this week’s post, I’m going to delve a bit deeper into Steam’s website, its downloadable gaming platform, and mobile app, and talk about the push and pull tactics leveraged by these channels and others.

Steam home page ads
Steampowered.com’s homepage looks exactly the same whether you’re viewing it in-browser or on your desktop.

First, I should mention that Steam’s homepage and its desktop app’s homepage are identical twins. The website and its downloadable counterpart, the latter of which supports access to games in case the user is offline (or has no Internet connection), both feature the same headlining sales, deals, and updates. These notifications refresh daily and weekly, and are arranged into various categories–the big sales are centered on the page, the weekly or weekend deals are usually arranged in the top right corner, daily deals are normally just below those, and so on. In other words, there are a variety of easily-located sections right on the home page that are frequently updated, and on different (but regular) schedules.

Surprisingly, for a consumer who’s never heard of Steam, it’s probably not easy to find the service through a standard search engine query, and this means Steam isn’t generating a lot of pull via online searches. Results for “digital games”, “online gaming”, and other search terms tend to result in ads directed at GameStop, BestBuy, and other brick-and-mortar retailers. However, as I mentioned in last week’s post, Steam has found an interesting workaround, and I’ll get to that soon. Where Steam really begins to succeed in its pull strategy is within its own platform. It’s difficult to think of every feature that helps achieve this, so I’ll stick to the highlights.

Here are some of Steam’s best and most unique pull strategies:

  1. Customized home page and purchase recommendations. Once a customer begins buying games on Steam (which requires a quick and free membership sign-up) Steam begins tracking tags associated with
    Steam website recommendations
    Steam quickly learns what users like and changes its homepage to suit the user’s preferences once they’re signed in. It makes the user feel “at home”–a good pull technique.

    purchases, store browsing trends, and other user behavior. When that user is signed in, the homepage changes to display games and sales of interest to that particular user, and explains why it made those recommendations. Additionally, it tracks what a user’s friends are buying and playing, and makes suggestions based on other users’ recommendations and reviews. It goes even further still, letting a user know which of their friends has bought or also wants a game the user is viewing in the storefront. But that’s not all. Steam also recommends search tags you should use in the future, based on your interests. Steam’s homepage becomes your homepage. It greets you as if it’s the cliche bartender who has your drink ready before you even pull up a seat.

  2. Tradeable and sellable digital items. This one’s pretty interesting. Steam continually creates digital items that are collectible and available to users who frequently use the platform. The type I specifically want to mention are Steam Trading Cards. Players can earn digital trading cards by playing
    Steam Community Market
    The Community Market allows users to make spendable cash by selling items they earn just by playing the games they buy.

    games they own (if the game supports the feature). Complete sets of trading cards can be “exchanged” for special upgrades to a user’s account or profile, i.e. access to special characters in the chat window, special buttons or stickers to display on the user’s profile page, bragging-rights style achievements, and so on. It’s a decent pull strategy that reinforces engagement. However, what’s more enticing, in my opinion, is the option to put unwanted items up for sale in the Community Market. Some users don’t care about account upgrades, and can instead sell their collectibles for spendable cash that deposits straight into their Steam Wallet. This makes it possible for users who are active enough to get more games at an added discount or even free. Building up free funds promotes exclusively shopping with Steam and engaging more with the platform. This feature alone, as Nelson Xalavier at Gamasutra puts it, creates a kind of addicting game in and of itself, and “[if you] look into the depths of Steam Trading, [you’ll] find a brilliant ecosystem formed around the unique quirks of the Steam platform.”

  3. Visibility in competitors’ storefronts. I mentioned this in last week’s post, so I’ll keep this brief. Steam’s biggest competitors (BestBuy, Gamestop, Walmart, and Target) have struggled to keep up with a consumer shift in favor of the sale of digital games as opposed to physical. Consequently, they’ve attempted to boost sales by selling Steam Wallet Codes in their brick-and-mortar stores. So, although Steam isn’t winning the Google search race, it’s made itself discoverable within its competitors’ stores, and is ready to be seen by a consumer base that, more and more, is developing a preference for digital gaming, but may not know its options.

Now let’s examine some of Steam’s best push strategies:

  1. Direct notifications. Steam makes use of a popular, effective, and well known strategy–simply, sending email and mobile alerts that keep registered users up-to-date on the latest daily and weekly sales, news, holiday specials, and other announcements. Users also receive alerts when products they’ve followed, liked, or put on a wishlist go on sale or receive a price drop, and when their friends send them gifts or a request to trade special items.
  2. The Steam mobile app and desktop app. Steam not only has a website that caters to each individual’s needs and preferences, and provides a social platform for gamers, it duplicated that service and encourages users to install it on their mobile device and PC or laptop.
    Steam mobile notification
    This mobile notification actually came in as I was writing this post.

    Steam makes itself accessible no matter where the consumer is, and continues to
    actively alert and update the user. The
    desktop app even has its own special news update pop-up that appears when users first sign in to Steam from their desktop; it provides a slideshow of the top five updates of the day, typically the biggest sales or announcements of the most anticipated upcoming games (which Steam makes available for pre-order).

  3. Steam Greenlight. I saved the most interesting for last. In recent years, there has been a surge of new and independent videogame developers and studios. As in book publishing or the film industry, it can be difficult to get “indie” projects off the ground and into the hands of big distributors. Steam answered with its Greenlight feature. Greenlight hosts the works-in-progress of indie artists who want to garner support for their games from consumers and a distributor at the same time. Greenlight allows indie developers a cSteam Greenlighthance to showcase the work they’ve done and talk to the community about what their plans are for their projects. In that regard, it mimics crowdfunding (think Kickstarter or GoFundMe), but without the financial endorsement feature. If a project gets enough positive Steam community response and the devs “donate $100 to a charity” (Hendricks), Steam will distribute and sell the finished product. I consider this a unique push strategy rather than a pull, because Greenlight actively petitions for community participation in deciding which new indie games to bring to Steam. The imagery on Greenlight’s page works as a good call-to-action (“Vote!”) and aids the push. The game development process isn’t often something consumers get to participate in meaningfully, and it’s a free feature that encourages users to engage with the industry beyond purchasing its product or sharing reviews.
Steam share buttons
Steam does include share buttons, focusing on its cross-platform engagement (Facebook, Twitter, and reddit), but, like offsite SEO, these seem to take a backseat to Steam’s focus on in-app push-and-pull.

Steam’s website, desktop app, and mobile app are littered with features designed to keep customers coming back, and those same channels do a great job of keeping the push and pull cycle going. If the brand could improve anywhere, it’s in two distinct areas. One of these I spoke about in last week’s post. There does exit a Steam Support team (here’s their Twitter), but its track record is nothing to be proud of. Valve has recently begun to answer for this failing and is making changes to Steam’s services that will hopefully correct this, such as modifying their returns policy. For now, users have to wait and see how much effect these changes have. The second weakness is the lack of pull marketing outside of Steam’s own website and apps, and its borrowed space in its competitors’ stores. It’s not a bad way to pull offline, but that tactic needs some basic online reinforcement–some good SEO would be the best place to start.

Ref.

Hendricks, Dustin. (2015, August 26). Gamasutra.com – “Launching Steam Greenlight & KickStarter: One week in, top 25, and 50% funded”

Nelson, Xalavier. (2015, August 31). Gamasutra.com – “Endless Steam–How I Found Valve’s Greatest Game”