Monday, August 29, 2011

the importance of social media awareness

Much has been written about the need to monitor your brand’s online reputation. In fact, an entire niche industry of “online reputation management” has been born from the concept. And, without a doubt, it’s an important part of any online marketing strategy. However, just as important is your brand’s “Social Media Awareness.”

There is more to monitoring social conversation than managing your brand’s reputation. The key to social marketing is joining the conversation, not changing it. And if you don’t know what the conversation is, your brand can’t become engaged with online consumers. Worse yet, you’re missing out on a treasure trove of insight into the relationship your brand has with consumers.

“We learn a lot from our customers, and our Facebook pages really help us to do that,” says Bic USA’s VP of Marketing, Traci Gentry, in an interview with DM News. Gentry says that Bic regularly “mines” social media conversations in order to understand how best to talk to consumers, as well as sharing the information with other marketing channels to make them more effective, such as keywords in paid search.

However, before you can join the conversation, you must first determine what that conversation is. Randy Hlavac, a social marketing expert and CEO of Marketing Synergy, Inc., calls this the “Social Media EKG.” It involves taking a measured look at the ongoing social conversation. Before engaging consumers, brands should determine what the online market, or community, is saying about its products, company, and competitors and what specific terms are they using in those conversations, as well as the tone. Do consumers have a negative impression of the brand, or a positive one?

Hlavac also says it is also important to determine the same in social conversations about competitors, which can help your brand to position itself better.

The information that you can learn from the Social Media EKG will help you join in the social conversation, and begin engaging with the online market for your brand. While you cannot change the conversation, you can help steer it in a positive direction.

Several tools exist for the purpose of monitoring the social conversation about your brands. Three popular tools are Radian6, Social Mention, and Technorati. These tools help you measure and investigate the conversation about your brand, which you can then use to form a social media plan to help engage with the online community.

"Social Mention allows me to see where the conversation is happening online, and provides insight into the discussion — whether it is positive, or negative,” says Spencer Broome, a marketing coordinator at MediaFiche. “It helps me to determine the reach of the response, as well as the keywords, or tags involved. From there, I know how to react."

And, knowing how to react is the name of the game for brands. From new products, to responding to complaints, to engaging with consumers in order to strengthen brand loyalty, everything starts with an awareness of the social conversation about your brand.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

looks like abercrombie got itself in 'a situation'

Brands pay celebrities all the time to sport their gear. Yet, clothing line Abercrombie & Fitch is taking a different approach. Instead of sponsoring a celebrity, they’re offering to pay the cast of MTV’s Jersey Shore to not wear their clothes.

According to A&F, the appearance of their label on the Guido and Guidettes of the Shore is “contrary to the aspirational nature of the brand.” I suppose reality stars puking in the streets while wearing an A&F shirt is not exactly what the brand wants people to “aspire” to become. (Then again, they are making a boatload of cash for being, well, talented at getting drunk.)

Yet, the request is a bit confusing. A&F isn’t exactly known for their aspirational advertising. The clothing line is wrought with its fair share of Shore-esque branding signals, including shirtless greeters welcoming customers into its club-like stores. And, as Shore cast member Paul “DJ Pauly D” Delvecchio pointed-out in a recent tweet, A&F has taken advantage of the Shore hype. “Hmmm if They Don’t Want Us To Wear Those Clothes Why Make GTL Shirts,” asks Delvecchio.

It’s a good question, and has a few people asking if A&F isn’t just building a PR stunt around the request. "With respect to The Situation, Abercrombie & Fitch saw an opportunity to get some advantageous publicity during the all-important back-to-school season," BMO Capital Markets Senior Retail Analyst John Morris told the Chicago Tribune. "It's definitely a good water-cooler conversation."

Stunt or not, it serves as a good lesson about the importance (and, consequences) of your brand narrative.

You have a product. That product has a brand image. That brand image is created through branding signals. And, your branding signals tell a story to consumers. If your brand narrative is one of youthful bacchanalia — as is A&F’s — don’t be surprised if your brand starts showing up in places where said bacchanalia occurs.

Pervasive brands have a tendency to get co-opted by consumers. Therefore, it’s important that your branding signals weave a narrative that ensures the brand is reaching the right audience.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

i told you so?

More than a month ago, I said that Google+ will fail. Mind you, this was in Google+'s heyday (and, honestly, it's golden era was pretty much a day). At the time, pundits were calling Google+ the next greatest thing in social media. It was the 'sliced bread' of the Internet, and soared to 25 million users quicker than Michele Bachmann can down a footlong corn dog.

However, being the skeptic that I am, I said:

Google+ has opted for a “me too” brand, just as Google Buzz was a me-too clone of Twitter. There is nothing revolutionary about Google+. There is nothing worthwhile about it. It may be signing up subscribers by the millions, but how many of those will be active in a month, or even a week? People have stated that they’ll drop Facebook once their friends start using Google+, but if everybody is waiting on the sidelines, who will jump in the game? My guess is very few.

Commenters on the article said stuff things like, "Whoa. Quite the statement here," and "In today's tech word switching from one social network to the other is like having multiple email accounts."

But, today, those commenters now must stand and listen to the Google+ eulogy delivered by Forbes' Paul Tassi.

Yes, the die hard hipsters on the internet might flock to G+ to be the first kids on the block embracing the new network, and might even have their own little Google Plus cliques, but most of those who have gone there have found it to be an empty room. They’ve left one party at Facebook, which yes, may have been going on a bit too long, and could be starting to wind down, but arrived at a new one where simply no one has shown up.

Tassi adds:

Google just should have known better. No one is going to scrap a social network they’ve spent 8 years building up to start over from scratch for one that offers only a few minor improvements. To compete there needs to be something put forward that’s truly revolutionary, and tech companies half-heartedly copying each other is not going to cut it and can’t masquerade as true innovation. be right. Read Tassi's full eulogy here. It's awesome, mainly because it echoes my sentiments a month earlier. And, well, I have an ego to stroke.

Monday, August 15, 2011

your brand narrative

Your brand is a narrative about your product. Just as an author uses words to build his story, brand managers use a series of brand signals to establish the narrative. And, just as there are many genres in literature, there are several genres of “brand stories” in the marketplace, particularly among beers.

The competition among brewers is amazingly fierce. The market for their products isn’t growing; therefore, expanding their share of the pie is the only way to move the needle on sales. This makes their brand story especially important because they must change consumers' tastes for competitor brands — no easy task.

Enter Coors and Corona.

Coors' latest offering to its product differentiation is the temperature bar on the label of their can. It turns blue when the beer is cold. Asinine? There isn’t a better definition. But, wait! Coors recently introduced a second bar, indicating whether beer has gone from “cold,” to “super cold.” (It was easy-pickings for Breckenridge Brewery.)

Meanwhile, Corona Extra’s “Find Your Beach” campaign is running strong. In these spots, Corona drinkers are shown to be on a beach, mentally, no matter where they are. For example, one of the latest spots features a man drinking a Corona on a beach when a Stewardess pushes a cart up to his chair. The shot switches to the man sitting on a plane. He found his beach, a mile above the earth.

One brand wrote a children’s novel. The other wrote War and Peace.

Cramer-Krasselt, who is Corona's agency of record, wrote that the “Find Your Beach” campaign is built for “further evolving the [Corona] brand's iconic campaign to extend the ‘Corona Beach’ from a physical place to a state of mind.” "What we want 'Find Your Beach' to do is literally show that the beach is where you make it," said Marshall Ross, executive vice president/chief creative officer, Cramer-Krasselt.

On the other hand, Coors’ “Bar Exam” spots pushes consumers to consider if drinking the beer will make them dumber.

When writing a story for your brand, consider what you hope to accomplish when the story is finished. It’s important that you create brand narratives that buttress what you want consumers to feel about your product.

The example to follow in this case is Corona. Instead of opting for a cheap trick, which has become the latest trend among the Big Three (Bud Light’s “write-on label,” Coors’ temperature bar, and Miller Lite’s vortex bottleneck), Corona chose to create a narrative that moved the souls of consumers and reinforced the power of escapism that has become a centerpiece of the brand.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

how starbucks can fix their squatter “problem”

I’ll admit it. I’m a Starbucks squatter. My agency is based in D.C., and I work in Atlanta. That means a full day working from home, and, well, that can get really tedious. No offense to my co-worker, a two-year-old Scottish Terrier, but he’s not much for water cooler conversations. He mainly sleeps. That, and he’s a dog.

To break up my day without losing productivity, I head down to the local Starbucks. There, I’ll usually get an iced coffee or green tea, and work for three to four hours at whatever table or seat I can find. And, I always tip the baristas. I consider that my “rent” for squatting in their establishment.

When I heard that Starbucks was cracking down on fellow squatters, a pang of panic ran through my spine. If I lost my Starbucks, I’d be a broken man. That’s a bit overdramatic, but if they began covering outlets to block power a precious source of power for my MacBook, or cutting off Internet connections after 30 minutes…I would be forced to find a new spot for WiFi.

I’m a proud, Gold Card carrying member of the Starbucks nation. I didn’t want to abandon my home-away-from-home office.

However, I do recognize the problem that squatters present for any sort of establishment that relies on high turnover for profit. And, then you have the jack wagons that give us squatters a bad rap, who plop down at the biggest table and occupy more than their fair share of the retail space. Me? I sit at the “carpool” table, where five+ people can squeeze in, even with gear.

That’s when it hit me.

Starbucks needs to move coffee. People need places to work. It doesn’t matter if those same people who are buying coffee over, and over again, or new customers. All that matters is that the cash register rings.

Instead of capping WiFi connection times, or blocking access to power outlets (some poor souls have batteries that won’t even last the 30 min. of which they have access to the internet), Starbucks could provide a code on receipts for internet access. At the end of that time period (one, or two hours would be optimal), customers would have to purchase a new item for additional access.

For people like me, who Starbucks is a necessity (for mental health reasons), I’d be more than happy to drop the $4 to $5 that I would pay for two drinks if it meant I could work as long as I wanted.

Of course, my preference is too keep the status quo…but, we’re not living in a utopia here.

Hey, Starbucks…don’t run-off your most loyal customers, even if they can be a pain in the ass sometimes. Leave the games and acrimony for the folks in D.C., and let’s come up with a relief plan that’s bi-partisan, or whatever.

If you want to use this plan, you know where to find me: Starbucks, Sandy Springs.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

state of regret: getting involved in discount wars

In an era of sales, BOGO, and discounts, it’s nice to see someone doing something…different. This is especially refreshing when it comes to car insurance. Geico set the standard for discount auto coverage in 15 minutes or less, and a plethora of companies have emerged to serve the low-end market with minimum coverage.

However, State Farm is doing something different. Instead of joining the discount frenzy with insurance, State Farm is leveraging their human capital to build their brand. In a recent ad called “State of Regret,” former State Farm customer “Jerry” calls his old agent pleading for help after putting his car up a pole. When she can’t help him, he says: “It only took 15 minutes to sign with that new auto insurance company, but it’s taken a lot longer to hear back.”

By refusing to participate in the discount game, State Farm is avoiding the crowded, low-end insurance market coveted by companies like Geico, Progressive, Esurance, The General, and local agencies. However, by pushing service rather than discounted prices, State Farm is able to attract business from the high end of the insurance market. This means State Farm can still bring in new customers without dropping their prices.

In the end, this is a much better branding strategy because they aren’t locked forever into discounted prices and won’t have to keep dropping premiums in order to keep customers. Customers came to State Farm because even with higher premiums than say, Geico, customers know that an agent will be there. So long as State Farm delivers on their promise of service, they’ll keep customers.

Looking at the top 10 insurance companies by market share in 2010, State Farm is at the top, followed by Allstate — another insurance company that has directly attacked the “cut-rate” insurance game in their “Mayhem” campaign.

Brands can take a lesson from State Farm and Allstate: although there is money to be made by dominating the low end of the market, discounting is a trap that keeps your brand locked into low prices. Should you try to raise your prices, you’re likely to lose any sort of customer base you managed to build.

Monday, August 1, 2011

the commercial your commercial should look like

"Whatever happened to commercials?" asks Michael Imperioli, in one part of a series of commercials for 1800 Tequila. "So many of them don't make any sense, and you can hardly tell what anyone is selling." How is it that a commercial reached a level of enlightenment lost on even the biggest advertising agencies in the world? This ad from Dead As We Know It, New York calls out one of the worst offenses in advertising: letting the ad overshadow the brand.

There is an insidious trend in advertising over the past few years. It’s what I refer to as “advertising absurdism.” Examples of this trend include Wieden & Kennedy's Old Spice deodorant campaign, Grey’s Dairy Queen Blizzard and DirecTV campaigns, and many more that create a stream of creative that is as surreal as it is illogical. Most often these campaigns are characterized by long camera shots filled with fast copy, and include a storyline fit for a few hours compacted into 30 seconds.

The paradigm for this style is W+K’s Old Spice deodorant campaign “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” While the novelty of the ad sent it viral almost instantly, making it the prevailing “buzz” of the Internet for some time, the replication of its absurdist technique in other campaigns (and, even in future iterations of the Old Spice ads) make it seem cheap, played-out, and completely lacking in substance. As a result, these brands are trapped in the failed attempt of advertising creatives pushing a product with a trick, rather than a substantive brand strategy.

In contrast to this advertising absudism is the cutting simplicity of the 1800 Tequila ad, featuring nothing more than Imperioli in a suit with a bottle of 1800 Tequila. "This is a commercial for tequila,” says Imperioli — a fatal, sardonic swipe at the pop-advertising trends.

Humor, special effects, story appeal, and the like are advertising techniques. They are not products. However, when technique (whether effective at capturing attention, or not) overshadows the brand and becomes the true product of the ad, there is a serious problem. Humorous commercials like Grey’s “Russian Oligarch” spot for DirecTV may have great recall with consumers, but how many consumers connect the ad’s tiny giraffe with DirecTV? DirecTV paid Grey millions of dollars to sell a fictional creature and a rich Russian — at least, that was the end result.

The Dead As We Know It ad is about as close to perfect as you can get, and should serve as a model for how simplicity can take a brand further than large advertising budgets, special effects, and overly creative account teams. There are no distractions in the 1800 commercial that detract from the key purpose of the ad: to sell tequila. Imperioli may be a TV celebrity, but his Sopranos fame isn’t vast enough to overpower the tequila he’s marketing. From the dark, classy setting, to Imperioli’s haughty tone, and even his simple — yet finely tailored — suit, are all branding signals that serve to enhance the brand. Those signals convey that “real men drink real premium tequila,” as notes Tim Nudd of AdWeek, when the spot was featured as the site’s Ad of the Day. “Why make it more complicated than that?”

Some of the most memorable advertising campaigns of the years have been some of the simplest (and, not for lack of creativity): Bill Bernbach’s “Think small;” Dale Pon’s “I Want My MTV;” Goodby Silverstein’s “Got Milk?” So, indeed, why make it more complicated than that?