Rethinking brand reach in a watching world

By Mark Di Somma

Rethinking brand reach
We need to move on. That’s my take-out from a piece by Tara Walpert Levy – spotted and brought to my attention by the ever-observant Jeremy Dean. We need to move on from a mind-set based on reach and drop-off, and replace it with one centred on engagement and accumulation. “Historically, our media plans have focused more on exposure and broadcasting than engagement and response …,” writes Levy. “We focused on reaching as large an audience as we could and hoped or planned that of that 100%, we would eventually whittle down to the, call it 5%, of people who actually cared and mattered for our brand. We focused on reach because our ability to measure engagement … was lousy.”

Not any more. Instead of opening the jaws of the sales funnel as far as they will go, Levy calls for an engagement pyramid that flips the funnel on its head. Start with what has always been seen as the end of the filter – the 5% who will be most interested – she says, engage them, get them talking and let the growth begin. Her thinking directly echoes that of Joseph Jaffe whose book of that name some years back first drew my attention to the need to pay attention to the “right” end of the funnel and use commitment as the multiplier.

The thing all brands with a social presence need to be paying attention to, Levy says, are the dynamics of Gen C (the content generation). For this tribe, content is the basis of conversation. It’s the prompt everyone in this generation is looking for in order to have something to share. Gen C are using social networks and content platforms to define their sense of self. They are what they see, what they make and what they distribute. Here’s a great insight: “When they share a video or an image, they’re not just sharing the object, they’re sharing the emotional response it creates.”

And they don’t just define their lives this way, they record them as well. This is the selfie generation. One in four upload a video every week and nearly half upload a photo every week. The way I see it that makes almost every Gen C participant a potential media company because so many people are now documentary makers. They are documenting their lives in words, pics, tweets, opinions and shares.

So the future for technology brands, at least in a content world, seems to lie very much in helping that happen or in being a product placement in everyone’s own movie. The future lies in catering to the Gen C question, “What can I tell the world now?”

Levy cites GoPro as a classic example of a brand that has drawn directly on Gen C’s proclivity for content. At first glance, the success of the little sports camera is an enigma. In a world where phones are ubiquitous and Flip failed, how did GoPro go public? The answer, according to this article in Wired, is that GoPro didn’t try to sell technology. Rather, they sold the memories and emotions that GoPro literally captured, and they have flourished because the thrill of capturing those memories talks to everything that Gen-C is about. “GoPro has sold consumers not on the camera, itself, but on something the smartphone can’t easily replace: the experience of using the camera.”

Once captured, of course, experiences must be shared – content – and through sharing, the brand’s reputation has literally been spread. In 2013 alone, according to Wired, GoPro customers uploaded 2.8-years worth of video featuring GoPro in the title and in the first quarter of 2014, people watched over 50 million hours of videos with GoPro somewhere in the title, filename, tag, or description.

My take-out. Scaling is no longer just about expansion, in the sense of adding more and being in more places to reach more people. Scaling, at least for lifestyle brands, is about acquiring a greater and greater sense of identity. But not the identity that brands talk about and know how to do. Rather the identity that consumers have – the sense of self that they gain in seeing progress and achievement for themselves and that they are then motivated to share. GoPro works not so much because of what it does but because of how well it enables people to put more of themselves in the world. They enhance their footprint through the brand; the brand doesn’t enhance its footprint through them. Jawbone Up’s done something similar. Redefined how people document the lives they have and want, using their screens and social media buttons as the playback and sharing mechanisms.

Roll camera. Life … Flipping the funnel is about building brands through granularity, not reach. Start with personal experiences as the critical beach-head. Build small communities. Encourage each of them to grow. Look for ways to knit them together. Rinse and repeat.

Photo of “GoPro Hawaii”, taken by Steven Worster, sourced from Flickr


Brands and the power of joy

By Mark Di Somma

Brands and the power of joyFrom a marketer’s point of view, numbers don’t drive recessions. They may start them. They may justify them. But they don’t actually make them happen. What drives recession in a consumer economy is very much the same thing that drives boom: emotion. When enough people believe in it, it will happen – and that’s because there will be enough people acting in a recessive way for the mindset to become embedded, and for the behaviours to seem logical, sensible, responsible, unavoidable.

Commoditisation works in much the same way. As something becomes more commonplace, as the standards rise and the costs of production fall, the expectations that all the products are the same also increases and people become more motivated to look for the cheapest option. It makes sense. It’s the obvious thing to do.

As consumers, the less we enjoy something, the less it surprises us or motivates us, the less that it elates us, the less we are happy to pay. The more people who feel less, the greater the loss of value (because then the effect shifts from being individually-sensed to being collectively endorsed)

We can monitor that fall-off in value now to a high degree of granularity. Data and algorithms drive so much of how brands do business today. Businesses take comfort in that because it delivers patterns and predictability. But it also brings with it a shift in emphasis. More and more brands find themselves focusing on what the numbers are doing. And that’s a dangerous reference point for a marketer – because the focus moves away from the human drivers of why people buy (and what generates value) towards the non-human drivers of what is being bought (and what most companies value themselves). In time, customers become an expression of the numbers, not the other way round.

That atmosphere can soon foster critical assumptions. One is that the emphasis must be on driving down cost in order to bolster the balance sheet and feed the numbers. That’s not a bad thing. But then, in response to calls for even greater returns and greater efficiencies, the numbers people can look to drive every ounce of delight out of the brand experience (because it can’t be quantified). They justify doing so as cutting costs, acting responsibly, doing the right thing, sweating the assets. At the same time, they’ll often look to drop prices in an effort to appear more attractive, be more “competitive”, boost the top line and the volume data. From a brand standpoint, such decisions go to a bad place: more companies peddling more vigorously in greater misery for lower returns and less loyal customers.

Marketers need to be able to advocate and quantify the effect of joy. And I suspect that the way to be doing that is to keep asking “What do we need to be introducing into our product range for our prices to stay stable or even increase?” The resurgence of Lego is a classic example of what can happen when a company focuses on the ‘emotional profit’ of its customers.

Ironically, cost cutting wasn’t the problem at Lego – in fact, quite the opposite – but the effect had been equally telling. Lego had basically let the designers run wild, according to this article in Businessweek, and the brand had stopped resonating with its constituency – in a market where buyers are beseiged with options.

Designers had indulged their creative streaks with increasingly complex models that required more and more new components. By 2004 the number of components had exploded, climbing from about 7,000 to 12,400, and supply costs had done the same. And while adults and the designers themselves loved what was being created, kids hated it. Their Lego wasn’t a joy to play with anymore. It was frustrating and complex.

Lego fought its way back, not by cutting costs directly but by holding its designers to account. By making its customers its priority and focusing on what worked for them, the company was able to slash the number of components to those that were most used, most loved – and to scrap the rest. It then brought creative and noncreative people together and used their combined insights to produce products that the market loves, that were practical to make and that were realistically costed. By celebrating creativity, but focusing it within agreed parameters, the company was able to restore profitability and retake hearts.

The key learning for marketers from Lego’s success is to focus on the buyer’s delight and make the money work, don’t compromise the joy to get the equations to work. And the second learning is equally salient – don’t expect that equation to be figured out by one group. Instead, bring people with different mindsets and emphases together, put the customer at the centre of the problem, and start talking.

If your products are struggling right now, slashing the delight to make the numbers work may temporarily alleviate the economic pain but it won’t address the key brand need. Find a way to inject joy into what you offer. Make your customers smile … and the money will follow.

Photo of “joy flights” taken by Mark Roy, sourced from Flickr

Brand response: how does your brand respond to parody?

By Mark Di Somma

Responding to parody

Talk by Starbucks this week of “next steps” following a Comedy Central prank that parodied their name raises the question of what should brands do when the borax is poked?

Aaron Perlut’s piece from a couple of years back on how GE chose to respond to The Yes Men laid out two simple strategies. The first one was pretty much what you’d expect: Acknowledge the spoof, clarify, and then ask everyone to move on. This, as he says, is a standard corporate response. It’s not particularly inspiring but it’s functional.

His second suggestion was more ambitious: Take on the mockers with a parody of your own. In fact, Perlut says, such a move may even give rise to an opportunity – “if executed well — tastefully reversing the parody can serve as a means to connect with new audiences that may have previously looked negatively at the brand or company.”

The third option of course is just to ignore the whole thing.

It’s curious to me that brands are very much instilled in our culture yet often retain a stiff and business-like approach to interacting with that wider culture. Having spent huge sums to be perceived as friendly and customer facing, their responses when the spotlight is thrust upon them in situations that they don’t control can be awkward, strait-laced and lacking in the very humanity they seek to cultivate. They seem to struggle with being approachable when they are not the ones doing the approaching. They want interaction, but only on their terms. As Rohit Bhargava put it so well, they reveal themselves as entities with Personality Not Included.

Behind their corporate windows, brands worry that slights on their trademarks and IP have reputational repercussions. The words “dangerous” and “precedent” get an extended airing by those who went to law school. But executive concerns should perhaps be tempered in today’s high-share media environment by the thought that consumers are looking for something to talk about and that parody is often little more than momentary fun. Unless the barb addresses a specific corporate action that will generate, or has already generated, deep ill-will, media scrutiny or consumer boycotts, it is very unlikely to jeopardise their overall brand equity and their response should reflect this.

Jest is really just another interaction. Often, it warrants no more than a reply.

So depending on the nature of the jibe, in most cases I’d plumb for strategies two or three. And if I was looking to strategy two, I’d absolutely be using social media to do it. Just like these brands did.

Act fast.

Act smart.

Act human.

Mitigate, don’t litigate.

Photo of “Smile, Day 153 of 365” taken by DieselDemon, sourced from Flickr

Define your terms of brand, then your terms of business

By Mark Di Somma

Define your terms of brand

So many companies build their brand around their business. They establish the tangible assets and processes and look to extrapolate the intangible value of that as brands for their buyers. They transit in other words from the physical to the emotive.

What would happen I wonder if, like Richard Branson does so often, you reversed the order; if the question being asked was “What would we need to co-ordinate (how, when and where) in order for customers to feel this way?” Start with your terms of brand in other words – and use those to define your terms of business. It sounds radical. But really it stems from the questions that everyone asks now, just in reverse order.

Ask first what most ask second:

  • Who do you want to be your customers?
  • How will you change the industry for them?
  • How will you behave to make that happen?
  • How will you help them feel that they will love?
  • What will they see by way of proof that you are committed to this?

Then, based on the answers above -

  • What will you offer them in terms of products/services (that they don’t get now)?
  • Where will you be for them? (on the ground, in the cloud, online, domestic, international)
  • Who will you work with to make that happen?
  • How will you look after them that they’ll enjoy?
  • How, where and when will you grow in order to be that company?
  • What will you return by way of fair compensation for your efforts?
  • What and how will you charge for what you offer that makes that happen and feels fair?

Photo of “Fly like a who’s who. Pay like a who’s that” taken by George Kelly, sourced from Flickr

How to shine as a B2B brand

By Mark Di Somma

How to shine as a B2B brandWe tend to put the onus for likeability on B2C brands, but while B2B brands may work to different dynamics and different decision trees, people still want to do business with people they like spending time with. Here are 7 ways your B2B brand can increase other businesses’ inclination to work with you.

  1. Build your authority – the fastest way to de-risk the decision to go with you is to show that you are a wise choice. Do that through story and demonstration not hype and hope. Shape what you say about yourselves so that you make sense as the choice to everyone who will make the decision about whether to use you. Much of the perceived value of powerful B2B brands like GE is predicated on the market’s understanding of the worth of their vast knowledge across all the markets they choose to do business in.
  2. Be uplifting – genuine energy is hugely infectious. People want to do business with brands that are passionate about what they do and the difference they can make. Present problems internally in ways that inspire people to solve them, and present your findings and answers with gusto but humility. There’s huge power in suggestion. In areas like consulting, for example, the most powerful B2B brands are those that people want to be in the room with because they’re excited about what they’ll hear.
  3. Problem solve – it’s not about what you offer, it’s all about what they need. Yes, everyone says they know that, but precious few act on it. Instead, they focus on displaying their own expertise rather than discussing how that expertise could be applied. Market yourselves as a brand that understands and is working to positively address the issues that come between your clients and their objectives. Put what you know in the context of what your client or prospect needs to address. Ideo is a great example of this approach in action.
  4. Have real personality – so many B2B brands are afraid of being anything other than beige. They worry that it compromises their “professionalism”, whatever that is. Not true. Stand apart by presenting yourselves in a colourful and savvy way – in your actions and in your marketing. Mailchimp are a prime example of an email marketer with a strong and instantly recognisable voice. Remember, brands put a face to the resources you have available. They bring experience and knowledge alive. They telegraph powerful messages quickly and decisively. Work with that. In today’s aesthetically aware world, beauty inspires confidence because it signals attention to detail.
  5. Listen carefully – monitor the market, provide input, shape debate, engage with others and take onboard what you get back. Then share the insights you’ve gathered generously. A brand that listens and reports is a brand that others also come to look to for cues. Take up a cause. Speaking for the industry to consumers or on behalf of consumers to the industry bestows authority and authenticity and makes you a critical pivot in the journey to resolution. IBM with its Global CEO Study and Edelman PR with its Trust Barometer are great examples of B2B brands that have put themselves at the centre of valuable and dynamic conversations this way.
  6. Start relationships early – expressing an interest in doing business with another brand and then exhibiting the patience to wait till a slot becomes available shows planning and discipline. Look for ways to involve your execs as an unofficial sounding board for difficult decisions that the target company is facing. Show them you want to see them prosper before you ask them to help your bottom line. Pitch doctor Neil Flett has said that a high stakes pitch is often won or lost long before the presentation takes place.
  7. Open doors – making introductions that display no self interest reinforces trust and helps businesses perceive your brand as connected and enabling. You are part of the solution, despite the fact that you didn’t actually contribute directly in addressing the issue. Those introductions don’t have to be to other people or fims – they can be to thinkers, books, presentations or alternative viewpoints. LinkedIn has of course literally built a business out of being that global introducer.

Photo of “Fête des Lumières of Lyon – Parc Tête de la d’Or” taken by Henri van Kalkeren, sourced from Flickr




What’s your brand advocacy strategy?

By Mark Di Somma

Brand fans

Every brand wants advocates. Little wonder. According to Janessa Mangone, people who actively promote your brand can be 50% more influential than the average customer in helping you secure new sales. So perhaps attracting them is something best not left to chance. As we head into the busy Christmas season, here’s some simple but timely reminders on how to put some wow! in your WOM.

Give them something to talk about – advocates love to share. Release news, ideas, tips, FAQs, case studies, video and reviews that the people who love your brand can enthusiastically share with others. Use email marketing to give them ‘scoops’ that are not released in the general media, and watch your traffic. It’s a simple way to monitor the amplifying effect of your advocates. While companies are increasingly looking at content marketing to bring new people to their brand, it’s easy to overlook the need to keep your current community involved and excited. A comprehensive piece here by Joe Pulizzi on how to attract and retain customers this way.

Recognise your most loyal customers – obvious,yes but often missed. Recognition might be through discounts, invitations to events, special previews or exclusive content. Above all, continue to thank these people for their support. And make sure that they never feel taken for granted. See how it’s worked for Starbucks.

Work the industry influencers – tell them things that they can tell others. This group is different than your advocacy network because they may or may not be passionate proponents. But in a world where everyone wants content to share, giving those who have clout the information they need to spread the word adds valuable third party endorsement that will bring new people to your brand and confirm the loyalty of those who are already followers.

Build a hall of fame – if you have celebrities or people in the spotlight amongst your fan base, look for reasons and occasions to put them, an occasion and your brand together. If the famous or infamous are not amongst your customer base, then look at developing a brand ambassador programme. Here’s how Lululemon did just that.

Act for others – draw attention to your brand’s good works in the community or for social change and encourage your advocates to join in. Again, this broadens your appeal to new customers and reinforces the pride that advocates already feel.

Bring people together. Encourage a sense of community online by setting up a supporters’ site – it’s a simple and highly effective way to bring people together to talk about the brand they love and to problem solve for others who are still coming to grips with what you offer. Given the widespread use of review sites to confirm purchase decisions, and Mangone’s stat that 83% of consumers require some degree of customer support while making an online purchase, it makes sense to put the people who haven’t connected with you in touch with others who have. It also makes sense to give your advocacy community, including of course your own employees, a place to share and tell stories. Some great examples of that here.

Not sure who advocates for you, or how? Mark Fidelman breaks down 7 advocacy types here in this handy infographic.

A new index released by Boston Consulting Group last month shows why more brands should be putting more effort into driving loyalty and sales this way. Among their findings:

  • Positive advocacy tends to be higher in industries whose products or services evoke greater emotional involvement, in “aspirational” categories and and for very visible purchases that involve significant money and research time.
  • Spontaneous advocacy has much greater impact on positive word-of-mouth than recommendations that are prompted.
  • Companies often overlook the inputs of non-customers but these people can be particularly influential in industries or segments in which only a small number of consumers purchase, or in which consumers purchase relatively infrequently.

An interesting footnote. Another finding from that BCG research is a sobering reminder to always keep an eye on your reputation – criticism damages a brand much more than praise helps it.

Image of “Fans cheers the opening kickoff” taken by Ben Stanfield, sourced from Flickr

Rebalancing the brand experience

By Mark Di Somma

Rebalancing the brand experience

A couple of months ago, Adrienne Bateup-Carlson sent me this op-ed by Roger Cohen. In it, Cohen laments the plasticisation of experience. “The question of genuine, undiluted experience has been on my mind,” he writes. “Germans have a good word for something authentic: “echt.” We have an echt deficit these days. Everything seems filtered, monitored, marshaled, ameliorated, graded and app-ready — made into a kind of branded facsimile of experience for easier absorption. The thrill of the unexpected is lost … We demand shortcuts, as if there are shortcuts to genuine experience.”

Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of a fast-food “service experience” can sympathise. The greetings are anonymous, the requests generic, the answers pat, the actions either physically or mentally automated. This is life on rote, experience in a box. It feels as sincere as the latest apology for downtown traffic delays, the “Thanks for waiting” message from the telco customer service team and the reassurances from an insurer that they will “gladly” pay up in the event of a claim.

It often happens because experience is acknowledged but unowned by the people most responsible for brands. In an article earlier this year, Nigel Hollis was astonished to discover that, according to Forrester Research and Heidrick & Struggles, most CMOs are not responsible for customer service and support or in-store/branch training. “That seems crazy to me,” he observes. “ … If the CMO is charged with developing positive brand perceptions and value, then they should at least have control over the most important elements of the brand experience.”

Completely agree.

The case for experiences, and more particularly, designed experiences makes sense. As Thomson Dawson has argued, “Design and the process of “design thinking” has added billions of dollars worth of market capitalization to those enterprises that understand its significant power and higher purpose to engage and delight customers in ways never before possible. In every leading company, design has become the soul of enterprise strategy … You don’t have to look very far to see brands that apply this principle with phenomenal results – Apple, Nike, Starbucks, Google, Patagonia, BMW, Herman Miller, Target, Gillette, Virgin – every one of these enterprises are absolute fanatics about design and its importance to their business strategy.”

So, on the one hand, we have experiences that are so patterned and explicit that they are meaningless. On the other, design has a huge role to play in adding value for customers. What’s the optimal mix? It’s something I have been talking a lot about lately: the need to actively resolve the tension between process and personalisation; to chart a reasonable and human course between the need for brands to lock down deliverables so that they can identify and measure them, at the same time as they avoid doing what Cohen is so incensed by – formulating encounters to the point where all the humanity and authenticity has been sucked out of them.

My thinking is this. The vast majority of any customer experience still needs to be pre-designed (and therefore generic). That’s because any experience at any customer touchpoint must align with a plethora of systems and procedures – health and safety, ops, security, booking systems etc. Customer themselves also require a high level of consistency. They want to know that a lot of things will happen the way they expect them to happen: that the booking system will work; that their key will be ready; that they will have the seat they were assigned; that there won’t be someone else or someone else’s anything for that matter in their room … Those are not situations in which spontaneity will be expected, or welcomed. The difference though won’t be decided there. All of that hard work will get brands to a point of parity.

The experience formula

The difference will come in the 10 – 20% that distinguishes the highly served from the also-served. It will focus almost exclusively on the human-to-human aspects of the experience:

1. Personality – how service is delivered and processes are executed, whether it’s with cheekiness, care, fun, familiarity or indulgence, adds humanity to interactions.

2. Recognition – how successfully and individually customers are identified and their needs anticipated decides the extent to which each experience feels tailored, specific and to some extent unrepeatable. This is about much more than just loyalty schemes or knowing someone’s name. It springs from an (appropriate!) interest in their beliefs, priorities and situation, and a working knowledge of their history with the brand. Done right, this feels helpful and respectful, not invasive.

3. Speed – no surprises here. Rapid delivery makes customers feel prioritised and that a brand has ‘dropped everything’ to attend to them. Not something to do all the time, but on occasions, the ability to act decisively and precisely to avert a problem or answer a need can generate ongoing loyalty.

4. Delight/surprise – everyone wants to feel special.

5. Exclusivity – recognition taken as far as it goes. When delight/surprise is blended with singularity, the experience can be both flattering at the time and share-able with many others later.

And where should we take our prompts from for that vital personalisation? Since it was Adrienne who first alerted me to Cohen’s article, I thought I’d leave the last word on rebalancing the customer experience to her. “As we look to create customer experiences that are pre-designed yet authentic, consistent yet individuated, relevant and resonant – consider how we re-think our fundamental assumptions in the way we approach the consumer.

“To quote in Wired UK August 2013: : “forget the consumer! Consumer is a bad thing to call people. Tomorrow the word will be more like ‘champion’. People have to champion your brand, not just consumer. They add value making you relevant.’ Now there’s a thought. While the customer experience must indeed be intentional and therefore designed, perhaps we should be doing it with others. The brand champions of our future.”

Photo of “Experience Music Project – IMG_1483”, taken by Nicola, sourced from Flickr
The Experience Formula diagram designed by Di Fuller, 2Di4Design

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