Tag Archives: consumers

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)

The New Corporate Trust Agent

My previous post “Marketing Research Mindset: Stop Debating Social” was about the opportunity that Social Networks presents to the corporate marketing research function. Here are some further thoughts on moving forward.

Marketing Research professionals who look past the ‘research’ shortcomings of social media monitoring, see the wealth of organic, continuous streaming of customer conversation on the web. This view is echoed by the ARF – Advertising Research Foundation in their most recent publication The Listening Playbook.  This new breed of research professionals is reinforcing its position as the Voice of the Customer within their organization (or their client’s domain). They are also the small minority that organizations are turning to for help in solving complex business challenges brought about by the Social Web.

Marketing Research should be the ‘go to’ place to sense the marketplace and be the primary source for social network guidance.  Consider the following: 

You Can Handle The Truth

The Voice of the Customer (VOC): Consumer research is, in part,  about understanding wants and needs, whether explicit or implicit. The best methods afford the enterprise a window to see many possible futures rather than the world as viewed through a rear-view mirror. VOC input also enables strategic planning in the broadest context and tactical business process improvement at the transactional levels of the organization.

Analytical Rigor: Those who do it right and avoid analytical rigor mortis bring an objective view to the decision-making process. Marketing Research sits at the table as a key input that is fact-based and provides insight into the risk and potential rewards of business decisions. Like the accounting function, Marketing Research employs its own version of GAAP that can both replicated and audited for accuracy. Unlike accounting, Marketing Research has the added benefit of providing a qualitative perspective that can be applied to innovation.

Business is filled with risk: As in golf, business is ‘a game of mistakes’, risks and rewards.  As some like to ask, “With all of that marketing research, why do so many new products fail?” One might also wonder then why do so many advertising and public relations campaigns miss the mark, M&A deals go awry, startups fail, product quality glitches occur, costs are overun, brands lose market share and so on.  As one venture capitalist recenty told me, success is often about timing and luck. We both agreed however, that data, research and insight help to manage the “known unknowns”.

Enter the Golden Age: The best thing about Marketing Research, as I see it, is that it knits together Customer Relationship Management and Social Media as a primary step of customer engagement. It is catalyst in unifying the enterprise and the customer through insight. CRM needs research to design the customer experience; Social Media, in proving its business utility, needs market research to make sense of the millions of consumer-generated comments that are posted every day about brands. Social Media and CRM are where Marketing Research insight is put into action. Similar links exist at the functional level with product development, media, advertising, sales, public relations,  marketing and manufacturing.

In the new consumer world of social and mobile, has there ever been a better time for Marketing Research to be the new Corporate Trust Agent? 

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM

Forrester’s Latest on CRM Trends:Opinion

Forrester Research has recently released it’s 2010  perspective on CRM. William Band, the lead analyst, prefaces the report by asking “As the economy recovers, what are the key trends that will drive customer relationship management (CRM) strategies and technology adoption in 2010?”

Here are my own observations on some of Forrester’s 11 key trends:

Trend #1) Companies return to investing in their most important asset — customers: This should never stop but credit to those who realize the importance of this vital asset. By re-orienting the enterprise back to the customer, companies will be able to sense and response to emerging wants and needs in period of tremendous upheaval in the marketplace. Various aspects of the web that affect the way consumers shop for and purchase will translate in to changes across all customer-facing touchpoints of the enterprise and filter back to the supply chain.

Trend #4) Social CRM hype reaches a crescendo, but projects remain in pilot mode: Makes sense as sCRM technology has outpaced the CMO’s ability to absorb and understand the business utility of a wide variety of applications.  For example, FourSquare, while it has intriguing possiblities for retailers, is only at the stage where some (mainly coffee shops) are offering discounts on product. Companies, such as Ford Motor Company, have seen promising results with viral campaigns, notably a significant number of pre-orders in the US market for the soon-to-be-launched Fiesta.  At the other end of the spectrum, few companies have been able to derive clear benefits from Social Networks such as Facebook, other than having a web presence. 

Trend #5) Customer service embraces real-time methods: This is a huge opportunity as it will generate two clear deliverables for the business case – reduce costs of customer service delivery and drive down cycle time to problem resolution. This trend falls in the category of ‘quick hit’ as it takes little effort to set up extension of the customer service function on Twitter and conversation can take place in real time. Additionally, it has the potential to offload contact centre traffic and deliver the added beneft of broadening the customer’s touchpoint options for contacting the enterprise for service/product queries.

Trend #8) Mobile CRM becomes a must-have capability: This may be the jewel in the crown. Not surprisingly, the travel industry has been quick to embrace this technology, as it has been at the forefront of self-serve for some time re. airline check-in kiosk at the airport, via desktop or mobile device. Hilton Hotels, for example, has rolled out mobile apps that enable guests to manage their reservation status remotely, use the GPS function to search for hotels, order special services while en route or check their frequent stay points balance while travelling. I call this “being able to take your brand with you anywhere you go” CRM.

Trend #10) Scrutiny of business cases remains intense: As it should. With some much in front of the CMO these days, the range of possibilities is intensely confusing. I believe that this is one of the main obstacles to adoption, early or otherwise, as too many people advocate one technology solution over another without providing the necessary guidance to client companies. What is needed are clear strategy and process roadmaps with an eye to benefits and outcomes rather than an obsessive (and futile) focus on ROI. Until such time, piloting projects will remain the order of the day rather implementing cross-enterprise processes and technologies that support the business transformation.

Thanks to the Forrester team for prompting this dialogue on CRM.

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM

Manage The Experience – Control Your Brand

There’s been an awful lot of talk lately about  ‘social media’  and how brands are no longer in control. It’s now all in the hands of the consumer. What strikes me about this kind of thinking is that it’s never actually been proven, using solid data, valid business cases or testimonial by a company or brand that has fallen victim to the rise in consumer control.  

Hell hath no fury like a consumer scorned

Ok, so your first push back might be “What about the Jeff Jarvis Dell Hell”? or “What about David Carroll?”  He’s the travelling troubadour who suffered at the hands of United Airlines who allegedly damaged his guitar then lost his luggage. In both cases, the offending brands were mercilessly flagellated online  as the bad news spread like wildfire through dry sagebrush. Dell and United were either unable to plug the gaping hole in their corporate reputation or stood by with an air of utter indifference. The viral vituperative spread across the socialsphere and consumers were vindicated in (almost) real time. “The Man” was taken down.

"I am now in control here..."

So was this all about consumers being in control? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that social media is one of the best things to happen to consumers in providing a channel for consumers to voice opinions about their brand experience good or bad. No, in that brands still have ample oppportunity to do deliver on the brand promise. What this means is exactly that – deliver on what the consumer is promised regarding product performance, service quality and social responsibility.  Stand by your value proposition and make sure that your company is always firing on all cylinders across every customer touchpoint. Consistently manage all customer-facing processes and drive the use of customer information about preferences, contact protocols  and wants & needs across the enterprise. Make sure employees are enabled, trained and supported to delivery the very best, on demand.

Manage your company. Control your brand.

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.”