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.”

Online Brand Mentions: Choose the Best Places for B2C2C Engagement

 

I  was recently intrigued by a blog post from a notable social media monitoring company. The post was about the rationale for brand engagement and the issues related to responding to online brand mentions. As I understood it, one of the main assumptions was that consumers only wish to speak to other consumers online about their respective brand experiences.

I agree that monitoring online brand discussion is important, I’m not sure that consumers only care to discuss their brand expriences with other  like-minded consumers. Let’s remember that there is a variety of places that consumers congregate such as corporate sites like www.fordforums.com, enthusiast sites like www.truckforums.com or forums where the common ground is issue-based such as  www.cholesterolnetwork.com .

Forums in particular are consumer communities that are formed on an ‘opt in’ basis by people who share a particular interest in an issue (re. high cholesterol), how to manage a process such as product usage or looking for a product such as shopping for a new vehicle. Forums are typically moderated by an individual who acts as gatekeeper to the conversation in order to ensure flow, continuity and balanced participation from the forum members. You usually have to register to become a member of a forum, so as to ensure legitimacy and authentication of participants and to keep out undesirables such as those who like to engage in ‘brand bashing’.

Which takes us back to some of the rules of engagement: Forum participants, whether they are brand loyalists, detractors, lapsed customers or dissatisfied consumers, do welcome participation by outside agents. This is especially true when consumers are trying to resolve a complaint or source product. I remember one forum in which an automotive brand was being discussed and there was an interest in a specific exterior finish. My client, once having been permitted to participate in the forum, clarified which colors were indeed available. Forum members subsequently commented on how nice it was for a manufacturer to take the time to participate and inform – a nice change from the usual ‘corporate speak’ communications.

There are many opportunities on the Internet for brands and consumers to have discussions and to co-exist. Though a brand mention is an indication of awareness, it’s not a request for response. On the other hand, where there are clear stated interests in products and the problems they might solve, the door is wide open for a healthy B2C2C conversation.

– Ted Morris

Marketing Research and the Rise of the Social Machines

I recently had the pleasure of providing a guest post for the AMA – American Marketing Association’s Marketing Research Conference held last week. These are times of transformation for an industry reputed to see the world through a rear-view mirror rather than drive marketing innovation. With this in mind, here are some further musings:
Mobile and the Generation ‘Effect’: Verizon just announced it is exiting the land line business by 2012. This gives credence to what some telecom industry analysts have been suggesting – the general public will have completely disconnected from land lines by 2020. Most consumers aged 16-29 currently do not have a landline subscription and are one of the most difficult target markets to contact for survey research. If you think your teenage son or daughter are hard to reach because of their preoccupation with mobile devices and the Internet, just imagine how mobile the world will be in 5, 10, 20 years. It’s quite possible that some market segments will only being reachable via a social site or mobile device; with portability or ‘go anywhere computing’ a term once coined by IBM, it will be difficult to ascertain whether or not the target respondent is actually based in a specific geographic location or physical market.

Brand Community Building: While some say “the consumer now controls the brand”, brands have commissioned companies such as Communispace to establish brand communities – online aggregations of consumers who have a specific loyalty, interest and adherence to a brand. Communispace has built over 300 online brand communities for clients such as HP, Kraft, Reebok, Starwood, and GSK. Brands use communities for direct feedback on product experience, innovation, service ideas, and value augmentation, allocating dollars that would normally go to marketing research budgets.

The complexity of business challenges will be augmented by the emergence of Owned Platforms. Owned Platforms, essentially a form of private label media, is moving the locus of brand management and control back to the brand. Procter & Gamble provides a great example of this with the multi-platform launch of Rouge Magazine www.rougemagazine.com. According to a recent report by WARC, P&G is also launching Supersavvyme,  a digital place for “savvy” mothers to gather. This Owned Platform will feature articles, blogs, discussion forum and special offers. In fact, P&G has put the ‘freemium’ concept on its ear by offering choc-a-block assortments of coupons and offers, a notable feature of the free Rouge quarterly.

Social Media Monitoring (SMM) Platforms: Five years ago the marketing research industry scoffed at such listening platforms. The biggest objection I heard was that social media monitoring “wasn’t market research.”  This would have been like saying that digital advertising wasn’t true advertising since it did not use traditional creative, media and pricing models. SMM Platforms will continue to grow in terms of capabilities, scope, cost and business applications. Back in 2003 there were less that a dozen viable SMMs in business; today there are over 50, at that is just in the US alone — and clients are buying their services with monies previously allocated to traditional survey-based research.

Many of the world’s largest and most well known brands are going digital in a large way – Coca-Cola, Ford, Dell and Lufthansa, are already there and leading the way; many others are migrating in that direction. In response, agency networks are reshuffling the deck. WPP, Omnicom, Publicis for example have acquired significant digital capabilities.  All are using social media applications to ‘sense and respond’ to customer requirements at times bypassing traditional marketing research as the need for “real time/on demand” consumer feedback grows.

These challenges also touch many related professional services including business intelligence and management consulting. Taking an ‘Outside-In view’, that of our the client, similar challenges exist at the functional and execution levels. The silver lining for marketing research in all this is the opportunity to take an active role in providing a foreword view for the brand. This means being a catalyst in the convergence of digital technology and marketing and placing innovation and invention at the forefront – Ted Morris ©4ScreenMedia

Crowdsourcing: Spoils of a Pyrrhic Victory

Call it the Vegemite effect but you have to wonder when you read press and blog statements such as “…one of the biggest ever crowdsource fails” or “the creative industry embraces crowdsourcing”, (emphasis mine).

Then there are those who think the barbarians are actually at the gate. In a story about “Dewmocracy”, Pepsi’s trial outsourcing of creative to a shop that is selected in part, by consumers, raises alarms for the creative community. Whether or not this will be successful (by what measure, we’ll have to wait and see), the hand wringing seems to be a function of the issue of agency fees, suggesting crowdsourcing and agency fee structures as undergoing ‘experimentation’ as the quality of some creative is being eclipsed by the fees being charged for business value delivered.

Experimentation indeed. Just because one or two agencies decide to build a business model around crowdsourcing (yet to make a rupee of profit) or Mars goes looking for 18-34 year old males to submit videos starring a Snickers bar, it’s all very, very notional at this stage.
 
Most poignant was Dorritos, who, according to a recent story in AdWeek, was spending money to create awareness but really looking to repurpose adspend dollars. So it’s not really about saving money, it’s about something we’re all familiar with – focus groups. Well, crowdsourcing is about employing one big undifferentiated mass without paying a lot in return for a bunch of ideas that may or may not hit the mark – like being at a advertising roulette table.

Is this simply a case of those with crumbling business models hoping for some magic potion to lift their business out of this advertising depression or are some of us simply overdosing on the nectar of all things social media?

At the end of all this, don’t be surprised if some prolific texting GenY brand manager stands up and says “We need to segment and do some target marketing”. Hard and costly lessons have already been learned: Kraft went back to opinion polling to seek out the ideas of a target consumer market as “Vegemite 2.0” was the laughing stock of the Aussie morning breakfast consumer, thanks to the well-intentioned ideas of the undifferentiated masses.

So before we champion the arrival of crowdsourcing on the advertising world let us heed the words of the Greek King Epirus, who defeated Roman armies at Asculum, in 280 B.C. “One more such victory and we are lost.”

The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Social Media Practitioners – Seeing Your Way Through ‘The Cloud’

It’s clearly with respect to Steven Covey’s framework for managing one’s career – The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People that is the focus of this post. You might recall the four quadrants, notably, Covey’s observation that many of us spend too much time with “busy work” and not enough time practicing principle #2 – “beginning with the end in mind”. So here goes:

1. Let’s start with what really matters the most: get out of the Social Media cloud. Online customer conversations about your brand, viral marketing campaigns, and digital media are simply technologies and processes that enable customer to company relationships. This new medium of the Internet adds tremendous complexity to the existing brand ecosystem and requires an informed approach, not rose colored glasses.

2. Understand whether or not your brand or your company should undertake a business strategy that includes the digital medium as a key element of its operations. Bear in mind, for instance, that digital ad spend is a very small slice of a very large pie dominated by broadcast television and other conventional media platforms that work very effectively in building brand awareness and influencing customer behaviour.

3. Take stock of what the company is currently doing about the way in which customer relationships are managed. Begin by understanding whether or not you operate in a B2B, B2C environment and the extent to which your brand and customers are right for a new initiative. For example, if your company sells industrial transformers vs. shampoo how ‘close to the customer’ do you get now?

4. Consider the culture – is your company already ‘customer-centric’? Does the company’s leadership openly discuss the importance of customer relationships? Does the company capture, use and share customer information across the enterprise to make improvements? If not, you’re going to be starting from ground zero, with a low likelihood of any measureable success.

5. Benchmark with other companies that have decided to leverage online customer conversations – what worked, what did not and why? Stay away from self-styled consultants and “social media” experts. The online environment is too nascent for anyone to be a legitimate expert – technologies and applications are in such a state of flux, major changes can take place, in a very short period of time relegating new tools to the trash bin of technological rust buckets.

6.  Understand how much, if anything, is being said about your company or brand. Set up some online conversation monitoring and test out the extent of and quality of online conversation at a basic level, over 3 months. Try a 3-4 monitoring vendors and see if they come up with comparable results based on the same research objectives. Moreover, make sure they have the right capabilities such as separating real conversations from spam, shills, hate groups and imposters (14 year old posting about $60,000 BMWs).

7. Timing is everything. Is your company, winning or losing market share? Does your company have a winning value proposition? Are current product offerings outdated, service delivery faltering and value delivery weak? If so, the ‘wisdom of mobs’ might take your company down an accelerated slippery slope and discourage the organization from re-inventing and undertaking transformational change.

As you can see, these 7 habits are not really about diving into the deep end of the “Social Media” pool. On the contrary, this is really about not getting caught up in the current “cycle of hype” and taking a clear, rational and informed approach to customer relationship management in a digital world. The notion of engaging in customer conversations is as old as the days when commerce was conducted in the village square, so listen and learn, then get into action. – Ted Morris ©4ScreensMedia  www.twitter.com/morristed