Monthly Archives: November 2009

Why just be Social when you can have a Relationship?

Facebook "Friends"?

I must give credit to the crowds for one thing after all: if it weren’t for the popularity of Social Media, I never would have thought of the idea of Relational Media. Since I first started in the business of providing online brand monitoring  and business insight services to corporations, the Social Media “industry”, if you may call it that, has gone through many an identity crisis.

Back in 2004, we talked a lot about ‘user/consumer generated content’ (UGM/CGM). The next iteration, with much credit to the folks at WOMMA, was to bring some structure and definition to this emerging media, so the term WOM – Word of Mouth Marketing, came into the lexicon. Lately it’s been called “Social Media”, largely defined (and some will,  of course, disagree with this definition) as the use of online software applications such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to be ‘social’ with many, without necessarily having to be bothered with the responsibilities inherent in a Relationship (dating sites might disagree here).

Lifetime Relationship

As many of us have witnessed, there has been so much hand-wringing, whining, debate and general consternation by agencies, PR firms, evangelists and self-styled social media artistes about  making Social Media work, period, never mind the monetization aspect. My steely resolve has been to deal with Social Media head on: call it Relational Media.

Why you ask? Well, it comes down to Human nature. We all crave, to some extent, love, recognition and respect.

Brands also feel this way as they seek to initially be social with people but eventually want to head to the altar and be your mate for life.  Is that not what Customer Lifetime Value is all about – attracting, retaining and developing profitable customers for life? Minute Maid, Crest, Toyota, Land’s End, Timex, Apple, Lufthansa, Marriott and many other brands don’t just want you to browse an end-of-aisle display or take a test drive, they want you to take them home.

We do this every day. I’ve used Tide because my mother did. I’ve been drinking Coca-Cola since I was a kid. I always stay at a Marriott property when I travel on business. I’ve worn Brooks Brothers button-down oxcloth shirts since I went to college… you get the picture.

So, there it is. Simple. Media that enables brands to build a relationship – packaging, television, conversations, the Internet or a coupon, whatever – not just a speed date. Relational media is an enabler of Customer Relationship Management

It’s great to be part of the crowd but it’s even better when you can have a friend for life. Relational Media.

 

Branding is a Beautiful Thing

Coffee Bar

Gas Bar

Whether it’s gasoline for your car or coffee for your stomach, it really is fascinating how branding can take ordinary commodities and transform them into deeply embedded symbols of North American culture. What’s most remarkable is how we can create extentions of those brands that command premium prices without really changing the product’s essense in a material way.

Take coffee for example. While you can walk into your neighborhood Starbucks and order from a menu of many dozens of coffees, you can also order something like a Venti Mocha Valencia for something around $4.30. This is equivalent to buying roughly two gallons of regular grade gasoline. The alternative of course, would be to drop into your local McDonald’s and McCafé your day for about $1.25. Not as fancy perhaps but dare you tell the difference in a blind taste test?

Speaking of which, there’s bottled water. Take a bottle of Poland Spring water. Nice packaging, looks clean and pure and takes you to pine forests likely somewhere near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. At about $2.00 a bottle it seems like a bargain when compared say, to Ty Nyant, direct from Wales. At only $4.50 per bottle, it has been described as “smooth but bland…and the bottle makes a nice vase.” Fact of the matter, at least here in Toronto, Canada, tap water is many times purer…and free! Yes, a true ‘freemium’ product indeed.

So here’s the wrap: With or without social media, televison, mobile apps, the Internet or whatever medium you can think of, there’s nothing like good branding. Good branding takes the most ordinary and pervasive commodities and transforms them into something that we ‘must have’. In fact, some of us like to be seen using the brand (I’ve heard that some people carry around their Starbucks cups like fashion accessory, which is fine by me). Isn’t it wonderful that we can take something as featureless as water and get people to generate massive gross margins for us. Next time you hear someone squawk about an increase in the price of gasoline, ask them ” …and just what kind of coffee do you drink?”

Branding in the Age of Relational Media

[Author’s note: This post originally appeared in Communispace Verbatim]

In 1989, George Fields (the founder of ASI Market Research) gave me a copy of his book, Gucci on the Ginza—a fascinating exploration of Japanese consumer culture. In his book, Fields employs the term Shinjinrui—meaning, in a most literal sense, a new type of person. This idea remains valid in this age of relational media—Shinjinrui march to their own tune and don’t always run with the crowd as we have seen with Facebook, YouTube, and of course Twitter. Shinjinrui also engage with brands on their own unique terms and expect the same in return.

Here’s why… crowds by their very nature are amorphous masses whose only identity is the mass itself. Crowds, like sleeping giants, can be easily awakened. At the slightest of provocations, crowds turn very ugly and morph into mobs (as was recently witnessed at the  Web 2.0 Expo). Similarly, when I worked for a social/relational media monitoring company, we found that there were a lot of ‘brand haters’ out there—racists, extremists, shills, and scam artists, all of whom had no interest other than compromising the reputations of many of the institutions and organizations that make our society a civil place. This brings us to the importance of community and how it can contribute to brand building.

Brands by their very nature are unique and distinctive unto themselves: UPS’s logo and uniform models of brown trucks, Big Blue—the IBM logo, and the Nike ‘swoosh’—a brand that doesn’t even need a name to be recognized universally. Some are even represented by characters that are symbolic of what their brands stand for: Ronald McDonald, Frosted Flakes’ Tony the Tiger, Mr. Clean, and the grand old man of 111 years, Bibendum, a.k.a. The Michelin Man. Bib, incidentally, is currently on  a campaign to reduce gasoline consumption worldwide.

So this raises a key question: how does a crowd relate to a brand in the first place? I don’t think it can, because it’s the individual customer who has the brand experience at the 1:1 level. It is the customer who relates in their own unique way to the things that brands stand for, such as Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’. If these brands do reach out and touch consumers at the individual level, why would they seek out the opinions of the undifferentiated masses? Brand communities are composed of homogeneous groups (segments) that have a set of shared interests and lifestyles that engage with the likes of Dove beauty products. As  Diane Hessan mentioned early in the year, “…if the crowd is smaller, more intimacy leads to higher engagement.”

It would be ironic, perhaps poetic, if some prolific texting Millennial brand manager, likely a Shinjinrui, stood up in an agency briefing and declared: “We need to identify a specific consumer segment and do some target marketing.”