Virgin Mobile usually hits up the SXSW Music festival to scout up-and-coming bands for its Virgin Mobile FreeFest concert or Virgin Mobile Live Radio, "but now the new rock stars are these mobile app developers," Ron Faris, head of brand marketing at Virgin Mobile USA, told me this morning. As part of its larger "Higher Calling" initiative rolled out earlier this week, on Friday (Mar. 9) Virgin Mobile launched its What the App program to spotlight emerging Android app developers on Virginmobilelive.com and other brand outlets.
Anyone who witnessed how Apple's launch of its App Store accelerated iPhone adoption shouldn't be shocked at a cell company would align itself with the mobile app ecosystem, but the fact that Virgin Mobile announced the program at an early-adopter event like SXSWi instead of promoting it in a more consumer-facing fashion might be a little shock. Michael Lazerow, CEO and cofounder of Buddy Media, said there's definitely been a rise in brand marketers attending SXSWi. "Pretty much every one of our big brands [ex. Virgin Mobile] has people here, which didn't happen [before]," he said. "Usually you have social media managers, but now you have people running [brands' marketing departments like Faris in attendance]."
Also in attendance? All 32 NFL teams. Lazerow said he wouldn't have expected that confluence in years past, but the teams met in Austin this week with social marketing experts like the Buddy Media honcho to educate themselves on how to use technology and content to build their business. "They have the best content in the world. You'd think they'd figured it out, but everyone's still learning." One thing brands are learning is how to transform from marketers to media companies. "We think brands need to think in terms of how you build a distribution network to distribute content at scale," Lazerow said.
Facebook's recent changes to its ad offerings put the content-centric approach on blast, but the shift extends further than one social network." Where marketing is moving to is newsroom marketing, which is all about headlines just in time," said Virgin's Faris. "Brands have to stay relevant now, and to keep that conversation going, they have to publish daily." To that end Virgin Mobile is working with social-heavy news site Buzzfeed to help with content created for Virgin Mobile's social outlets. Faris said the decision to partner with Buzzfeed is a change from a "studio-based marketing culture" of one-way, brand-to-consumer messaging to a fast paced environment in which brands must keep up with the rapid pace of consumers' conversations. Faris' team meets every week to go over headlines and content to push to its 18-24-year-old target demo. "We're in like a hardcore training mode right now," he said.