For our money, the Yo app is more than a toy that can be ignored, and has valuable lessons for digital marketers about the nature of marketing, content, and providing value for consumers in a time when the competition for attention has never been more fierce.

Here is a Silicon Valley story.

A developer has an idea. It's a different, super simple approach to communication. One the one hand, it seems too simple to be of interest to consumers. On the other, how many of today's biggest social networks started with something too simple to matter, derided as "toys" as they accumulated users?

8 hours later, the developer has an app. He submits it to the app store. It's released to the wild.

A few people use it. In the simplicity there is a spark of engagement. The tech press notices. In part they notice because even they can't believe that someone took the time to build something so utterly basic. Some cover the store with benign amusement; others with outright outrage, claiming that we've finally, collectively, jumped the startup shark.

The coverage exposes the app to more people - including entertainers and digital marketers. Those new users have new ideas about how to use that incredibly simple functionality to suite their needs.Angel investors get interested and the company raises an impressive seed round.

More press coverage. More howling. A split between people who think the app's early traction can be the start of something great, and others who think it means the bubble has officially burst.

This story has happened before. Companies like Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat, were all written off as novelty's before getting mass consumer adoption. Today, brands and agencies spend millions trying to chase the audiences whose social experience is defined by them.

The most recent retelling of this story is Yo, the network that literally only allows you to send a single message: Yo.

So, what is it? Bubble indicator or powerful new platform?

YO: The Basics

Yo is an app where you can send the two letter word "Yo" to people. That's it. No ability to customize the message.

The "Yo" appears as a push notification.

Using a new API, brands can embed a link with their Yo. When the user receives a brand's yo and swipes, it automatically takes them to the link embedded.

For more on how Yo actually works and how early adopter brands are using it, please watch the video embedded above.

Borrowed Or Granted: The Battle For Consumer Attention

Marketing is ultimately a battle for attention. Every medium advertisers chose has upsides and downsides. Traditional television ads provide an immersive 30 or 60 second video format that can be used to tell a complete story, but they can also be DVR'd and ignored. Social media offers an immediacy and potential connection, but brands risk seeming out of place next to content from friends.

When it comes to advertising, attention falls into one of two categories: Borrowed or Granted.

Borrowed attention has historically been the norm for brand marketers. They borrow the attention that is granted by the consumer to the television program, or the article, or the YouTube video to show them their piece of advertising content, hoping that it is interesting enough to overcome the fact that the consumer didn't ask for it.

This has always been advertising's great challenge. There is an implicit bargain struck between the consumer, the publisher of content, and the advertiser, where the consumer is allowed to consume that content for free (or for less) because the advertiser picks up the difference.

The problem is that consumers aren't actually involved in negotiating this deal; it just is the way it is.
The era of social media has offered an interesting alternative: Granted Attention.

When a consumer follows a brand on Instagram or Snapchat they are granting their time and interest to that brand, inviting them to send them content. This creates an opportunity for brands to build a fundamentally different type of relationship with their current and potential customers.

The challenge is that the successful networks where brands and consumers meet tend to be noisy and crowded, and branded messages often go unseen even by those who people who have chosen to follow them.

Because of this, savvy digital marketers have been looking towards communication channels that are even more immediate and present in consumers lives.

Enter Yo: gateway to the push notification.

The Most Valuable Media Real Estate

The push notification is the single most valuable piece of media real estate in the new mobile era.
When mobile phone users enable push notifications, they are literally inviting the apps they enable to interrupt their other activities.

Given this, it tends only to be apps of extreme importance to them; things like text messages, where real time immediacy can matter, that get the privilege of the push.

Yo is perhaps the first mainstream social media app to be built entirely around push notifications. There is literally no other way to accept communication from people and brands you follow.

For this reason, users of Yo tend to be much more selective about which brands they follow, because they're guaranteed to see every time that brand sends a message.

Brands, then, are forced to be much more considerate, deliberate, and value driven when they Yo. In other words, while followers may not punish them for sending an uninteresting Tweet, uninteresting or annoying Yos will quickly lead to the brand being unfollowed. The medium of the push notification inherently creates a higher burden of value.

The early adopter brands and entertainers on Yo are tending to define the context of their Yo'ing more deliberately up front, so users who follow them know what to expect.

The Chelsea soccer team (one of the world's most popular clubs) for example, sends a Yo only when the team scores a goal, often embedding a link to a photo or video of the goal as well.

Product discovery community Product Hunt "Yo's" whenever a new product hits 100 up votes on the site, embedding a link directly to that product, and so on.

In an interview with Ryan Morris, Yo's Head Of Business Development, another idea for brands surrounding reminders and exclusive content came out.

He discussed the example of a television program sending a mass Yo to it's followers with a link to the trailer of a series a half hour before the show starts, but then simultaneously sending a direct one-to-one Yo to a handful of fans that had even more exclusive content - like a behind-the-scenes interview with one of the actors on the program.

Final Analysis: How Much Should Brands Give To Yo?

The stakes are this: If Yo continues to grow, brands will have a hard time finding as direct and valuable a channel to consumers. But it will also be easily the most difficult of all social media to build and maintain a large following.

What if, however, Yo is a fad? Why does it matter then? Are brands better off just waiting to see if it goes away?
First, there is good reason to believe that Yo isn't going to run out of steam any time soon. The company now has 2.6 million users, 20% of whom are active every week, sending a total of 88 million Yo's - that's better than where many of today's biggest social media channels where when they were just four months old. What's more, their new $1.5m war chest means they have the ability to experiment, learn from users, and iterate.
But there is something more important as well.

We are entering a time when marketing isn't about the cleverest or coolest graphics or TV spot; it's about actually giving consumers something they want - about understanding and participating in their lives as they live them, not just trying to lay claim to them.

Every brand today is a lifestyle brand, and the only way consumers pay attention in the long run is if a brand is able to convincingly facilitate that lifestyle - whether through providing premium content or giveaways or something that allows consumers to do and be more of what they want.

Yo dramatizes the stakes more than any network so far.

When a brand choses to Yo, it is competing for a limited number of push notifications users are willing to accept alongside not only their friends but their favorite bands and athletes and DJs and YouTube celebs and movie stars.

For a brand to get traction in that environment, they're going to have to deliver real delight to followers.
In that attempt, they will learn more about what it means to market in the social media era that they can bring not only to their presence on other networks but to their thinking about advertising as a whole.


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