Category Archives: Crowdsourcing

Mind The Gap

“At Gap brand, our customers have always come first. We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we’ve made the decision to do just that – we will bring it back across all channels.” This is from a recent press release from Gap Inc. regarding a change in its corporate logo. The full text can be found here: link.

So the socialmedialists feel that they won the day. The people (crowd) has spoken. While some have speculated that this was a PR stunt, The Gap Inc. nonetheless appears have capitulated and reverted to its original logo. Amen.

My speculation is that this event was symptomatic of something else: a brand that is indeed struggling amidst a retail industry vertical that is recovering fairly well since the 2008 economic downturn. The stock price peaked near $26 around April 23, 2010 and has fallen 30% to around $18 today. Historically, the stock hasn’t done much in the past 5 years, remaining under $20.

From a marketing perspective, the outcome of the social media/crowdsourced and subsequent response by Gap Inc. suggests a brand that has lost control. There is little sense that the outcry actually came from Gap customers or whether the research that GAP conducted was segmented with respect to brand loyalists, frequent shoppers, Gap customers at large versus non-customers and people who generally make a habit of railing against brands for sport. To take this further, there was little evidence that Gap distinguished between social media in the broadest context or WOM – Word of Mouth otherwise known as earned media, a key metric of contextual online brand conversation. I would also surmise that the Gap’s logo wasn’t top of mind with its various customer segments as opposed to merchandise selection & availability, customer service and the on-line shopping experience.

At the end of the day, whether or not a company chooses to change its logo,  the value proposition has to be clear, strong and reflective of customer wants and needs. If the value is not there, perceived or otherwise and if the product/service delivery does not meet or exceed expectations and create conditions for repeat purchasing, logo changing will do nothing to affect corporate performance. This goes for any company in a fiercely competitive market.

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensMedia

Advertisements

Commentary: Media Companies Need To Become Marketing Companies

The following is an excerpt from an online post authored by Andrew Heyward and Jeffrey F. Rayport in a recent edition of Harvard Business Review:     

                                                                                                                                                                         These consumers, people we like to call “Customers 3.0,” live in a blur of mash-ups, blogs, RSS feeds, links, text messages, tweets, and “life-casting” on social networks like Facebook and MySpace. For Customers 3.0, the very idea of content includes everything, embracing all media formats as well as advertising. And they collect, collate, and customize such content according to their individual tastes in personalized online environments (like MySpace or Facebook “pages”). This is what we call “user-generated context.”        

In this environment, it’s increasingly difficult for either publishers OR advertisers to stand out. The long-standing value proposition of publishers to brands – we create compelling content that attracts a desirable audience and then sell you the privilege of placing your commercial messages adjacent to it – is becoming a tougher sell.         

That’s because marketers don’t get much value out of seeing their messages appear in anodyne ad units (like banners ads). They need rich integration of their brands with content users are seeking or creating on their own. That leaves publishers in a sticky position: either they stand by and watch marketers build compelling online experiences without them, or they put their editorial and creative capabilities to use to help their clients – the big brands – cut through the clutter.         

In our practice, we like to say that “every company is a media company.” Increasingly, every media company must also become a marketing company. For online publishers, the challenge is to achieve that goal without damaging the very reputation for credibility and integrity on which their market positions rest. If online publishers can’t manage that balancing act before it’s too late, they’ll have more than mud on their faces.          

Here is my take:  As brands/national advertisers transform in part, to media, publishers have an opportunity to seek new partnerships by redefining their roles. For one, extending the value proposition means that publishers can be purveyors of a paid subscription base that is made available to brands as participants in making the message. Media and message become united. Message and media finally merge in a way that makes business and cultural sense.    

What this may mean, by necessity, is the redefinition of how the paid print advertising model is architected as ‘earned media’ become currency. This is not to advocate a ‘freemium model’ – after all, you still only get what you pay for – rather a model that attributes a business value to user-generated content reflecting the effort and subsequent return of the medium.     

Those that see the opportunity will find the right tools for the job. New cloud applications are about to come out of the gate in such as way that makes the cost of entry low and the opens the door to test this new media paradigm.      

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensMedia      

HBR – The Social Media Bubble: Opinion

Umair Haque, Director of Havas Media Lab, recently posted a thought piece in the Harvard Business Review .

In general, Haque hypothesizes that Social Media doesn’t really connect people but instead, creates the semblance of relationships. Haque states, Social Media is ” largely home to weak, artificial connections, what I call thin relationships.”  He goes on to say “Today, ‘social’ media is trading in low-quality connections — linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.”  Here are my own observations relating to some of Haque’s supporting points.

Truth: If we take social media at face value, the number of friends in the world has gone up a hundredfold. But have we seen an accompanying rise in trust? I’d argue no.

Agreed. In fact the word ‘friend’ is used very loosely in the social media vernacular. To me, a friend is someone that I know and trust. Most of us have about 5 real friends in our lives whom we trust implicitly. The rest are aquaintances, people that we are tied to loosely via circumstance like work, associations, clubs or…Facebook and Twitter. What we have seen a rise in is conversation amongst relative strangers under the pretense of ‘friending’. Caveat Eggshell.

Disempowerment:  If social tools were creating real economic gains, we’d expect to see a substitution effect. They’d replace — disintermediate — yesterday’s gatekeepers. Yet, increasingly, they are empowering gatekeepers.

It’s been notable that service providers such as PR agencies, advertising agencies and media consultancies have been vying for ownership of social media within the advertiser domain re. client side of business. They advocate the social media imperative, are evangelical in their style of persuasion and purport to offer social media “ROI”. They fall short by ignoring the element of accountability – something ingrained in traditional media. There is however, substitution in the form of reallocating traditional media dollars to digital. In this regard though, the financial equation is incomplete: digital is cheaper but the material business benefits are elusive. Quantified returns, in management accounting terms, are a work in progress.

Value: The ultimate proof’s in the pudding. If the “relationships” created on today’s Internet were valuable, perhaps people (or advertisers) might pay for the opportunity to enjoy them. Yet, few, if any, do — anywhere, ever. .. I can swap bits with pseudo-strangers at any number of sites. “Friends” like that are a commodity — not a valuable, unique good.

This is a tough one. Social Media is increasingly seen as a near free channel or pipe to deliver content, customer service and promotional offers. It’s also cheap in the sense that it has the capacity to diminish the value of fact-based, expert content while simultaneously encouraging the rise of ill-founded, non fact-based crowdsourced opinion. In this context, success is all too often gauged in purely quantitative terms (# of fans or followers) rather than say, degree of loyalty/willingness to recommend. In a similar vein, it is problematic to prove that people are who they say they are in the world of social networks, as many use avatars to represent themselves. If something is a known unknown then how does one ascribe value? 

There also exists an element of social media that is redundant, maybe superfluous, in terms its effect (non-effect?) on consumers. For many brands, the franchise is well entrenched (Tide, McDonald’s, BMW, Wal-Mart and of course, Apple) and the principles of The Discipline of Market Leaders are in place. These same brands already have meaningful relationships and established trust with consumers pre-Internet. Social Media is not about to change this any time soon, though to some, it may appear that way.

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM

(Cross-posted at Cloud Ave and reprinted by IBM Business Insight Blog)

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.”

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.”