Category Archives: Brand Experience

There’s no Social Media

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Image courtesy of Swiss Miss

Dictionaries define media as a means of mass communication. Slapping a ‘Social’ in front of ‘Media’ doesn’t make it less of a means of mass communication. That’s why these boring debates about monetizing Facebook are pointless. And this mass communication mindset leads to dead brand pages on Social Networks with no engagement opportunities. Twitter profiles as RSS feeds. Or media departments being tasked to develop ‘social media campaigns’ because media belongs in media. 

Yeah, I know, it’s the Wild West out there: Everyone claims to be a Social Media expert – Strategists, Account Planners, Media Folks, Brand Managers. And so we end up with people being euphoric about 10,000 ‘friends’ of their brand. Or Twitteratis counting down to their 7,000th follower. In reality, this all makes no sense because they apply old metrics to a new reality. It’s questionable if marketers can move away from doing something to people and convert into a mediator role: Helping others with their social interaction. 

Who knows if Facebook and Twitter ever become profitable ventures. Frankly, I couldn’t care less. There’s a lot of data to be mined, new spread sheets to be created, data centers to be kept busy. All this data mining might be very insightful and help the balance sheet of these companies. Somebody will become rich.

But what these tools really do is make us visible to the world. The richness of this experience has nothing to do with numbers. It has to do with new forms of connections and interactions. With new ways to communicate with each other. A new form of humanity. 

Calling it Social Media makes it more vulnerable to the madness of targeting, relevancy and data centers. Let’s find new words for this experience. This is too important to let the vultures take over. Again.

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We need more leaders, less followers

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Image by Mike Monteiro

“Diederich Hessling was a dreamy, delicate child, frightened of everything, and troubled with earache.” That’s how the novel ‘The Patrioteer‘ by Heinrich Mann begins (one of my personal favorites). Decades later, and we still have way too many Diederich’s in this world. They are afraid of everything but they are mostly afraid of taking a stand, developing a unique opinion  that’s not already filtered by the opinion leaders of op-ed pages, blogs and Twitter. And most of them are not only troubled by earache – their spine and brains suffers heavily.

Following opinion leaders blindly has lead to the financial crisis, a deep recession, the Iraq war – the list could be continued for pages. We should trust Greenspan, right? He knew what he was doing. We should trust Paulson’s request bailout package, correct? He should know how to fix the credit crunch. We should trust Colin Powell and his UN speech, correct? He seems so trustworthy and would never fool us, right? The culture in the US doesn’t allow for and most people are not able to tolerate a lot of ambivalence. There are just a few brave souls that publish their opposing opinions and stick to it through attacks. In the Social Marketing field, we still see strong challenges of opinion leaders throughout the discussion of the Kmart promotion but once certain opinion leaders say their piece, the majority falls in line and accepts their opinion as gospel. Frankly, I was almost shocked to see that almost nobody criticized the Panasonic coverage throughout CES . At one point, Twitter felt like QVC: people discussing the awesomeness of Panasonic, their products and all their people. (That’s my only concern with these kind of promotions: You’re spamming me with irrelevant information, tweets of people wanting to get a Sears/Kmart gift card, clogging up a very personal channel of information. You’re doing exactly what advertising has done for year, not adding value to my life.)

The Kmart promotion might be one seminal moment in the history of Social Marketing – suddenly PR excursions are okay because the opinion leaders said so. This is proof of Robert Michels’ theory of the Iron Law of Oligarchy: Democracy leads to Oligarchy. A few tell many what to do.

We’ve seen this attitude of ‘If you’re not for us, you’re against us’, played out in US politics in the last decades. We’ve seen it wreaking havoc on major financial institutions when dissenting voices were shut down very quickly. (Just watch CNBC and see how pessimistic analysts are basically shouted down immediately.) And, in the end, nobody is responsible for anything because the system failed. The model failed. Not the individual failed. Nobody is taking responsibility for anything, it was always the fault of something we fools won’t understand anyway. Sure, there will be a perp walk sometime soon (Maddoff, are you ready?) but the real issues behind the meltdown will be covered by the opinion leaders, blaming it on VAR or other acronyms most of us won’t bother to even try to understand.

Obviously, the Social/Conversational Marketing field is still in the honeymoon phase and I’m happy to see that open discussions are commonplace and democracy still reigns. In order to survive and thrive, Social Marketing needs more leaders, more thinkers, more outspoken personalities, more provocateurs. We need to be able to live with and live through ambivalence. Actually, we should cherish ambivalence as one of the most important values in our continued exploration of this new space. Dissenting opinions should be further explored and not painted over with the broad brush of majority opinion.  This little, nodding and spineless Diederich needs to be defeated. Each and every day.

From wants to needs

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Image by Mike Monteiro

We see a dramatic shift in consumer behavior: Pre-Lehman we wanted to have the newest gadget, wanted that flat screen, wanted the luxury car, wanted the luxury vacation, wanted anything bright and shiny. Not anymore.

This dramatic shift is reflected in the dramatic decline of auto sales, horrible retail sales, how deflation rears its ugly head and consumer credit sees the biggest fall in decade. These are the symptoms of a behavior shift that will be us for long time to come. 

Marketers love wants. Their main job over the last decades was to convert wants into needs. Based on the Abraham Maslow hierarchy of need theory, marketers mostly forgot about the basic needs of people and appealed to the need for self-actualization: This car will make you more successful. This gadget will make everybody else jealous. This product will complete you. Those times are over.

While people are struggling to deal with the new reality, they are only concerned about their basic needs: Air to breathe, Water to drink, Food to drink, Sex to procreate. Add to that the need for Safety and Security, the need for love and belonging, the need for the respect of our fellow’s and for self-respect. 

0-60 times have become irrelevant. Same is true for claims of cars as ego extensions. Instead, people buy cars to go from A-B safely, efficiently, without being disrespected by their neighbors. This changed mindset will increase the value of WOM, digital conversations and honesty in marketing. Sure, it was fun to live in a dreamworld of wants being needs, supported by flashy advertising and singing monkeys. But, the party is over.

Throw those champagne bottles and glitzy toys away and go back to the basics: Listen to the needs of people. Understand how this new reality affects them. And how it changes their thinking, outlook on life and behavior. Connect with them. Don’t try to fool them anymore. It stopped working a long time ago and it’s completely counter-productive in this environment. And, don’t get fooled: This is not a temporary shift. This shift is a permanent change. Just like your post-Depression generation didn’t jump on the materialistic bandwagon, this generation won’t believe in consumption as self-actualization anymore. 

Just like The Who said: We won’t get fooled again.

Brain Overload

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Just listened to the the Radiolab Podcast – Choice and was intrigued by one experiment they were talking about: Participants had to either memorize two or seven numbers. Once they memorized them, they had to go to a different room to recite the numbers. On the way to the second room, they were offered two choices: Either a beautiful piece of chocolate cake or a fruit salad. Surprisingly, the participants that had to remember 7 numbers chose the chocolate cake by a wide margin. The people with two numbers to memorize chose by a wide margin the fruit salad.

Why?

Apparently, our rational brain can only handle a small amount of information until it’s so clogged that the emotional side wins: The people that had to memorize seven numbers weren’t able to make a rational decision. Instead, the emotional side took over and the chocolate cake with all it’s issues attached to it (Calories, Health, etc.) won handily. When people only had to memorize two numbers, the brain had enough bandwidth to compare two choices and go for the fruit salad. This study has fascinating implications for any kind of marketing: When you’re on a automotive site such as Edmunds or KBB, researching, filling your head with facts, it makes no sense for advertisers to fill up your brain with more info since your rational side is already on overload. Emotional messages would deliver much better results. Or you’re watching a news program, the last thing your brain needs is another fact-filled message. Since most Internet interaction is based on a lean-forward, rational premise, should all online messaging be focused on the emotional side?

This study makes a case for the advent of Social Marketing since it combines the benefits of rational thinking with forming emotional connections. It’s the best of both worlds.

Loyalty Marketing is overrated

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Image courtesy of Thomas Voorn

I belong to a few loyalty programs: SkyMiles, Starwood, Priority Club, Virgin Flying Club, Virgin Elevate. But almost every brand tries to sign me up for more programs: Supermarkets, Coffee shops, Gas Stations – you name it. My basic stance towards loyalty programs: You continue to make a great product/deliver a great service AND your competition doesn’t trump your efforts, I will keep coming back. Offering me loyalty points and bribes perks won’t keep me around. There are a few exceptions to that rule: airlines come to mind. I love Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic, can’t stand flying with Delta. But my Medallion Status (second group to board, a few upgrades once in a while) and the possibility to afford a business class ticket through my SkyMiles keeps me around. And the fact that Delta flies almost anywhere while my favorite carriers don’t fly to little towns such as Seattle or Atlanta. Brand often mistake loyalty for retention. Retention is just a behavior. I do fly Delta because nobody of my preferred airlines flies to that destination nonstop and I do accumulate points. Loyalty is an attitude: I wouldn’t recommend anyone flying Delta. The whole Medallion thing is rather ridiculous, the product and service stinks. 

Real loyalty is becoming more and more important for brands. But loyalty shouldn’t be confused with points, cards and status. Besides the obvious product/service benefits, people are looking for intangible benefits from their brands: Samsung with their airport chargers, Zappos with their commitment to service, Prius as a symbol for being on the green revolution party. 

Sure, keep on offering retention tools: Coupons, supermarket cards and special retention offers will people keep coming back to your store. Especially when times are tough and you offer the best deals. But, ultimately, you put your business at risk just focusing on retention tools. Times will get better and people will get antsy, looking for the new, new thing. Unless you converted them to loyalists through your extraordinary product/service, to people that want to spread the message for you, you will lose them. And no promise of points will make them return.

Brands need to deliver value

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Coming from a cold country, I’ve experienced extended waiting periods in bus stops during harsh winters. Not something I would recommend to anyone. But many people will endure this situation throughout the upcoming winter and Kraft found an innovative way to combine a marketing campaign with a service that communicates the key benefits of their Stove Top brand stuffing

“In the latest example of a trend that is becoming increasingly popular on Madison Avenue, heated air will descend from the roofs of 10 bus shelters in Chicago, courtesy of the Stove Top brand of stuffing sold byKraft Foods.

From Tuesday through the end of this month, Kraft is arranging for the company that builds and maintains the bus shelters, JCDecaux North America, to heat them, trying to bring to life the warm feeling that consumers get when they eat stuffing, according to Kraft.”

That’s a great step in the right direction. But Kraft could go further: Why not extending this program to many more cities, not limiting it to a month, extending the program till the spring? As Drew pointed out in his post, Samsung didn’t offer the airport charge stations for a limited time or to only one terminal, they showed a real commitment. And, that’s the difference between an advertising stunt and a real social marketing strategy in order to deliver value: You have to be in it for the long run. The current, very limited campaign is more of a stunt, something that will be forgotten quickly. But, a real commitment to bringing warmth to people will put that warm spot for the brand in people’s heart. Kraft, it’s not too late.

Value doesn’t equal money

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Image: Courtesy of Found Magazine

Remember MySpace as a community platform before it became a marketing platform and ad network? Remember Second Life as a new way to interact with people before it became the marketing vehicle du jour and a user annoyance? Remember widgets when they were valuable and an innovative way to pull in information before marketers over-widgetized the world? Remember Facebook when it was a community platform with a few applications before marketers started to build almost 50,000 applications (at last count)? Remember the iPhone when it was a new way to interact with the mobile web before the application store launched and now it’s almost impossible to cut through the clutter and deliver a valuable application to the consumer?

Is there a trend?

It’s the tendency of marketers to jump on a bandwagon, fall into the trap of the GMOOT Syndrome (Give me one of those) and overwhelm platforms or new opportunities with marketing messages, not understanding how to add value. Marketers have problems making that switch from being professional disruptors to value-adders. Only if you add value to the user experience will you be able to stand out. Period.

People will leave a platform and move on when they feel exploited, when their user experience diminishes while the balance sheets of the platforms improve. Short-term.

Sure, it’s not only marketers fault. Platforms are often pushed into allowing marketers in as early as possible to facilitate growth and high valuations. Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO Evan Williams promised a revenue model by Q1 2009. Will Twitter fall into the old trap? Or will they found new ways to work with marketers to add new value to the platform by adding new features and functionality? Or allowing users to engage with a brand in new and exciting ways? One can only hope for.