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Posts Tagged ‘Brands Are Opinions’

One In Five Tweets References a Brand

One In Five Tweets References a Brand

…but really, that’s hardly surprising.  As a culture, what do we share?  The Chicago Bears? Republican or Democratic politics?  American Idol?

The simple truth is that one thing all Americans have in common, regardless of gender or age or race, is our firsthand knowledge of brands.  Listen to the material of any stand up comic; chances are, nearly a third of it revolves around brand advertising and marketing messages because they act as a touchstone to help comedians connect with their audiences.  Brands are opinions and though we might not always be informed, Americans always have opinions they are always willing to share.

But once again, this study from some researchers at Penn State raises an issue many advertisers would rather not address as it relates to their place within social networks.  Yes people may be mentioning your brand by name on Twitter, but does that constitute a selling opportunity?  Maybe the people involved are just connecting over common ground, a common opinion they hold.  Perhaps they are using your brand to serve a social interaction.  In that case, does it make sense to try to sell them?

Or does it make more sense to listen?  And observe?  And learn?

In this ecosystem, we’re best following the guidelines of the responsible naturalist: leave only footprints.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
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In his post on Advertising Age’s Small Agency Diary, Marc Brownstein offers some thinking on ‘free media’ and whether or not it poses a threat to advertising and media agencies.  Despite the soaring popularity of social media, do brand efforts in these media advance the strategy and differentiate the product?  Can a fanpage create enough attraction on its own without an introduction via a TV commercial?  Is the platform even viable for self-promoting sales messages?

What?  All You Got Is A Hammer?

What? All You Got Is A Hammer?

In the end, Marc gently and tactfully demurs, his answer boiling down to “possibly, kinda, but not really…’  I’ll be more direct; absolutely not.  There is simply no way ‘free media’ will usurp paid media. First of all, the entire notion that there are ‘free media’ is flawed.  The placement of brand messages within social networks may not have an associated cost the way a spot does, but the time required to create bespoke responses to each individual inquiry/complaint/compliment/request for more information can be staggering.  For most companies, the current means of working social media amounts to little more than a new take on the old department store complaint office; you create a human face for the brand that allows people to talk and engage directly and conveniently.  But that requires staffing.  And man hours.  And training.  None of which come free.  I far prefer the title ‘earned media’–and savvy companies that commit to that investment are very likely to earn meaningful media placements in this emerging space, if for no other reason than there efforts will be have a strategic foundation.

Second, advocates love to trot out a few high profile examples of success in these arenas to demonstrate the emerging power of social media.  While a few efforts merit our attention, even those require a bit more sober assessment.  Yes, @DellOutlet is a notable success story for social media with it’s Twitter-exclusive offers and 600,000+ followers.  Its growth has been phenomenal, earning two million in annual sales in less than two years.  All of which is remarkable.  But it’s chicken scratch compared to the company’s total 2008 revenues of $61 billion.  Twitter sales represent maybe .003% of total Dell revenues, which makes me think it’s a bit premature to toss aside the traditional media powered sales channels and throw everything into free media.

And lastly, do consumers really welcome brands as active participants in these spaces?  They are, after all, social networks; the ‘social’ notion comes first and foremost.  Some brands can navigate this challenge, offering enough interesting content to keep people engaged, but that requires consistent, steady effort to insure your exchanges mesh with the brand’s strategic voice.  Treating social media as a separate silo will inevitably create dissonance between brand messages.

I believe every brand should engage with social media because brands are opinions and social networks let marketers assess ever-shifting consumer opinions of their brands in real time basis. Since social networking provides opinion with a powerful mass channel, marketers must take steps to actively influence brand opinion in that channel.  This is why we see such powerful convergence in the form of advertising and word-of-mouth.

If you truly want to integrate your messages, you can never rely on simply one tool.  You need to use you entire toolbox in thoughtful, strategic concert to build a truly great brand.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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I recently had my consciousness raised regarding Facebook.  On this blog some months back, I wrote a surprisingly popular post wondering whether this social network would become the Members Only jacket of the early 21st Century.  Once the novelty wore off, would the investment of time required outweigh the benefits of all this easy connectedness?  In hindsight, the ‘Members Only’ tag could be what drew readers, but I’m a bit sketchy on my SEO knowledge to really determine that.

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Turn To Page 96

Writing in the July issue of Wired magazine, Fred Vogelstein outlines how this aggressively market-capped, yet-to-make-a-profit social network aims to create value, and it requires insuring the benefits of this easy connection platform always outweigh the time investment. As it stands, over 20% of all internet users are on Facebook, spending an average of twenty minutes a day there.  Mark Zuckerberg and company aim to further embed Facebook as the center of all online activity.  

Why?  Because everything we do there is trackable.  And owned solely by Facebook. Every connection we make, every opinion we express, every last ‘Which type of canned vegetable are you?’ quiz we take and share produces data which they alone own.  None of it will ever show up in other web browsing search engines.  And since Facebook is the one place online where people regularly use their real names to share real thoughts with real friends about real topics, that data has remarkably robust human context.  By comparison, Google’s data is largely limited to search history.

The ramifications of monetizing all this contextual data could be staggering financially.  If this type of deeply human Facebook information informed even a tiny percentage of the incomprehensible 3.6 trillion banner ads placed in 2008, they would stand to make…well, technically speaking it would amount to tanker ships of cash (I know even less about finance than I do about SEO).

We live in a world where opinion has a mass channel greater than TV, radio and print combined.  We work in a world where brands truly are opinions, and thus bound to the vagaries of fluctuating public consideration. For Facebook to have exclusive access to untold hours of that opinion provides them with a competitive advantage that borders on the scary.

I doubt Google, Bing, Dogpile, IceRocket, Collecta and dozens of other search engines will be friending them anytime soon…

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Picture 1Last week, a post on iMedia Connection with the incindiary headline “Why Twitter Will Soon Become Obsolete” , caused a bit of a stir. Jason Clark, a creative director at VIA Studio, made a rather compelling argument that despite the hype surrounding this platform, people shouldn’t consider it a final destination as a social network.  Referencing the constant stream of new platforms that have sprung up on the net these past twenty five years, Clark argues that all have been social networks of one form or another, from the late 70’s bulletin boards and usenet groups, to the rise of email in the 80’s and then the increasingly rapid iterations and adoption of blogging and AIM to the more contemporary platforms like Friendster which begat MySpace and eventually Facebook, along with all the recent graphic networks like Flickr, YouTube and Vimeo.  The only constant throughout has been change; as soon as one platform captures the attention of a large group, a technology and needs-driven iteration develops and if it proves useful, the herd quickly adopts it as well.  Or more depressingly, once the signal-to-noise ratio becomes unbearable with marketers spamming the platform and chooching up the interface, people look for something new.  He points to Google’s Wave as a potential next destination.

Despite the pugnacious headline, Clark’s argument makes fundamental sense, even as iMedia simultaneously posted a story on how Nielsen measured Twitter’s user base growth at an astounding 1444% this past year: as of May, 18.2 million accounts had registered on the service.  Marketers now must evolve their tactics to keep up with internet time, creating an uncomfortable cycle of constant reinvention to keep pace with engaged audiences.

Our business challenge now is to sustain a constant sprint, to keep tabs on critical consumer markets that migrate with quicksilver speed in a constant movable feast.  This is the phenomenon guest blogger Tim Mauery wrote about this past Tuesday: today, Fastest/Smartest wins.

The trick however, is keeping an eye on the one marketing goal that never changes: building client brands.  You can lose hours of the workday, surfing the web and social ‘NOTworking’ under the pretense of understanding the market.  But the business of brand building has also become more time consuming, particularly today when the participatory Web 2.0 has essentially provided consumer opinion with a mass distribution channel.

Brands are opinions, and we need to continually shape, steer and improve those opinions with clever, strategic engagement across more consumer touchpoints than ever.  Against our shrinking timeframes, picking which touchpoints to engage given finite marketing dollars will decide who soars and who stumbles.

If anyone has any tips on doing that successfully, the comment board is open.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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It may seem like so much facile wordplay, but the fundamental need for advertisers to move from the dated notion of ‘integrated marketing’ to the more contemporary concept of ‘integrating marketing’ makes sense for a number of reasons.  First, it’s active.  ‘Advertising’ must be thought of a verb: an active pursuit that demands ongoing care and engagement.  Given the constant stream of opinion that fills and influences the content streaming over social media, brands and their agency protectors can ill afford to fall into the old habit of ‘set it and forget it.’  Today, brand advocacy demands a deeper commitment to insure their ongoing health; we always have to be doing something.  Because brands are opinions.

Picture 1Another upside of re-imagining our job as ‘Integrating Marketing’ is that it encourages a broader view that incorporates both paid, earned and even ‘drive-by’ media like Twitter and brand review sites.  The messages we produce and introduce to the marketplace create movement and impact, but they are hardly the last word.  With purchase intent so driven by recommendation and word of mouth, agencies need to monitor and ideally, impact, every available platform for widespread opinion sharing.

Ultimately, the real reason to reorient ourselves toward ‘integrating’ marketing is that our market is continually disintegrating.  Through technology like DVR’s, Hulu and YouTube, the market continually expands away from one common location.  To reach these far flung micro audiences requires a constant process of ‘integrating’ them back into a larger group around a common bond.

So, are you integrated?  Or are you integrating?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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The HSBC 'Points of View' Campaign   

The HSBC ‘Points of View’ Campaign

For the past four years, HSBC has run a provocative poster campaign from JWT.  Using a brilliant media buy in high traffic airport jetways, the ads highlight paradoxical points-of-view.  Simple graphics and headlines illustrate the insight that people from different regions, backgrounds or cultures often view the same phenomena in vastly different ways.

More than anything, this campaign demonstrates the fungible nature of opinion; something that’s become all the more relevant with the massive informational and behavioral changes brought on by the pervasive, worldwide adoption of the participatory Web 2.0.  By most any measure, opinion’s recently emerged mass distribution channel makes it far more impactful than TV, print, and radio combined.  We may not think of it as a traditional medium per se, but we ignore it at our peril.  As word-of-mouth experts are fond of saying, as much as 92% of all purchase decisions are driven by recommendation, which is nothing more than vocalized opinion.  More importantly, opinions have never been easier to come by; out culture is literally awash in it.

Google “review of Pixar’s Up” and you get 3.6 million entries in .33 seconds…  Every product on Amazon features buyers’ ratings and other key retailers like iTunes, NetFlix and eBay encourage prominent feedback opportunities.  The crushing volume of blogs and soon the exponentially larger world of Tweets can be simply searched.  We even edit our own networks to match our personal opinions, watching Fox News, listening to Air America, or subscribing to magazines and blogs because they reflect our personal politics.  Opinion is literally everywhere and louder than it has ever been.

All of which threatens the relevance and usefulness of those long-held marketing saws ‘brand truth’ and ‘consumer truth.’  What is ‘truth’ in a wold where opinion holds such dominance?  And whose truth?  Can there truly be a universal product or consumer truth?

Instead of the classic Venn diagram that guided years of integrated marketing by highlighting the intersection of ‘brand truth’ and ‘consumer truth’ we now have one vastly larger, much less uniformly shaped universe of consumer opinion, with all of it’s variants, anomalies and conflict.  Brands are opinions–and so our agency job today is to determine not something as debatable as brand truth, but rather the Brand Authenticity (and yes, Authenticities) within all of that opinion and then help meld and coalesce them into a universally-accepted Brand Authenticity.

Do that, and you bring powerful alignment to the often warring worlds of paid and earned media.

At least, that’s my opinion…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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What a difference a Phase 5 pandemic makes.  The drums of global hysteria grow ever more deafening as every news outlet screams the new name for horror: “Swine Flu.”

Keep A Sharp Lookout For This

Keep A Sharp Lookout For This

Swine Flu compelled Egypt to order the immediate slaughter of every pig in the country, Great Britain to order thirty-two million masks and the Chicago Public School System to temporarily shutter a few Elementary Schools.  Around the globe, new legislation, international travel bans and public service announcements drive home the deadly threat, even in countries with no current cases. 

None of this is good for pig farmers, particularly since their product has precious little to do with the outbreak.  While this flu virus did originate in pigs, every flu virus originates in birds, pigs or humans–that’s how they evolve.  The trouble is that  influenza mutates incredibly quickly in any carrier, which is why flu vaccines must constantly change unlike say, the vaccine for polio.  According to flu experts at the World Health Organization, this virus is neither food borne nor related to pork consumption.  It spreads solely through human-to-human contact; no one has contracted swine flu through eating, handling or even kissing a pig.

Regardless, the popular misperception persists and because brands are opinions, the Other White Meat brand now lies seriously compromised and decidedly devalued.  Of course, they have close company in the Mexican Tourism Board, which was already battling a dangerous drug violence concern.

Can a brand survive this type of reputation-riddling tsunami?  Not without a serious and aggressive investment in messaging.  Advertising can help the Pig Farmers, but a PR offensive would prove more immediately effective.  And they did accomplish at least a small first victory yesterday, convincing the World Health Organization to stop referring to it as “Swine Flu” and instead use the less memorable but more accurate “H1N1 Influenza A.”  Whether the Pig Farmers take action or not–and their website’s landing page so far ignores this issue entirely–having a clearly-defined task like correcting a mistaken perception puts pork is in a far better position than the multi-front battle facing Mexican Tourism.  Aye carrumba…

Of course, on the bright side, this story is spurring disinfectant soap sales by the boxcar.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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