How the Future Social Web will Transform Marketing

June 29, 2009

In a recent white paper titled “The Future of The Social Web,” Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang predicts the social web will  morph through 5 different stages over the next 5 years, wreaking havoc on the way brands market. In his summary, Owyang states:

“Today’s social experience is disjointed because consumers have separate identities in each social network they visit. A simple set of technologies that enable a portable identity will soon empower consumers to bring their identities with them — transforming marketing, eCommerce, CRM, and advertising. IDs are just the beginning of this transformation, in which the Web will evolve step by step from separate social sites into a shared social experience. Consumers will rely on their peers as they make online decisions, whether or not brands choose to participate. Socially connected consumers will strengthen communities and shift power away from brands and CRM systems; eventually this will result in empowered communities defining the next generation of products.”

Portable Social Networks

Consumers will still use Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and such, as they do today. What’s different is that OpenID, Facebook Connect, and similar capabilities will enable consumers to traverse the web, and have their networks flow with them.

The Future Social Web -- Transforming Brand Marketing ?

The Future Social Web -- Transforming Brand Marketing ?

The implications of this are potentially profound, given that ~50% of consumers now belong to at least one social network. And even more important, these “portable” social networks will bring data and knowledge that is more trusted than the content delivered via traditional marketing contact points.

Changes Due To Social Network Portability

Owyang points to a number of important changes which will be driven by portability:

  • Social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn will aggregate member activities and preferences and sell or leverage this data with brands
  • Consumers, using OpenID or Facebook Connect, will be able to expose all or portions of their personal and network information to the web sites they visit
  • Web sites will be able to use the personal information enabled by OpenID or Facebook Connect to personalize consumers web experiences
  • Consumers will visit web sites and know to what extent the site has been frequented by their community, what their community thinks of the site, product or service, etc.
  • Social communities will feed data and insights about web sites, brand experiences, product and services, etc. to members on an as wanted basis.
  • Search results will account for user preferences, habits, as well as the users social network preferences

My interpretation: Social communities will play an increasingly important, and perhaps even dominant role, in the future. Brand Marketers are going to have to rethink how they organize and market their brands.  This is because the future social web will make “portable” the opinions, insights and knowledge of friends — which all research shows is much more trusted than virtually any other information source–as consumers travel the web and interact with brands, products and services.

Implications for Marketing

  • Social Network Segmentation — Segmentation will potentially move from traditional demographic, usage, or needs based schemes to social networks. Not necessarily the group of friends an individual belongs to, but the aggregated set of individuals that tend to be like them based on habits, practices and preferences.
  • Focus on “Amplifiers” — Influencers will become more important because they will be omnipresent. Word of mouth theory posits that 10-15% of any population are “amplifiers”–consumers with unusually large social networks who also are on the leading edge of sharing new information. These amplifiers will become portable and follow their non-amplifier friends and inform them as they travel the web. The future social web will enable marketers to identify these amplifiers and develop programs to interact with and influence them.
  • Personalized User Generated Content — Consumers will be able to see what their social network — either their immediate network or people like them — think of a given store, product or service, wherever they go on the web. Thus, user generated content will become more personalized–and more impactful. Marketing organizations will need to develop new tools to influence and monitor this new content.
  • User Experience Personalization — Consumers will come to your website, along with a wealth of information about themselves and their network. Brands can use this data to personalize the experience, recommend products, etc. Brands which fail to take advantage of this opportunity will be at a disadvantage.

Owyang is quite bullish in predicting all this will happen in the next 4-5 years. Personally, this feels a bit aggressive. But, there’s no doubt that if the world above materializes, even in 10 years, marketing will be a far different place than today with far reaching implications for how brands market themselves. The time is now to begin thinking through the implications of social network “portability” and how the Marketing organization of the future should be designed in response.

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Leading Your Brand Beyond Marketing

June 25, 2009

Every Marketing organization needs to answer a fundamental question: “what’s the role of Marketing in our business ?” Why ? Because the “brand” is almost always much more than just the Marketing plans.

In many organizations, for example CPG, Marketing’s role is clear, well defined and a given. But for many organizations, particularly non marketing driven ones, it’s a question that needs answering. In an earlier post “What Do CEO’s Really Want From Marketing?,”  I summarized ex-IBM and American Express CEO Lou Gerstners’ point of view: the role of Marketing is to build the brand and deliver a great customer experience. But is it really that simple ?

Brand Experience -- More than Marketing

Brand Experience -- More than Marketing

Extending Marketing Influence

At a recent CMO Club dinner in New York, I had the privilege of leading a discussion on this very topic:  “Leading the Brand Beyond Marketing.” What followed was a spirited discussion among CMO’s about how and when Marketing should exert more influence over the brand experience. The simple part was agreeing that Marketing should influence the brand experience beyond the marketing plans. The hard part is how.

Tools for Defining Brand Experience Drivers

Here are 3 tools I’ve found helpful in increasing Marketing’s influence over the total brand experience–including some areas historically considered irrelevant to Marketing.  The common denominator with all of them is facts. The tools provide a data based approach to defining which factors are driving the brand and what role Marketing should play in influencing them.

  1. Market Contact Audit — This is an excellent tool to help you understand the relative importance of various Marketing contact points in your category. It measures the top 35 contact points for impact, as well as brand ownership–e.g. the degree which contact points are owned in consumers minds by different brands. Importantly, the approach forces you to think beyond the standard marketing touchpoints–e.g. advertising, sponsorship, etc. and consider new ones like answers forums, annual report, etc. A likely outcome is a clearer understanding of the most impactful contact points in your existing marketing mix as well as new ones outside the traditional marketing mix that you hadn’t thought about before.
  2. Brand Equity / Customer Satisfaction Drivers — Customer satisfaction surveys not only measure satisfaction. They also measure the important factors contributing to satisfaction and quantify the relationship between those factors and satisfaction. Understanding these drivers enables Marketing to define areas outside Marketing that are central to driving a superior brand experience.
  3. Corporate Reputation Drivers— Similar to above, a corporate reputation survey measures the overall corporate reputation and the key drivers which most impact, positively or negatively, the reputation of the firm. For single brand firms, this can be a critically important element of managing the total brand experience. It’s different from satisfaction research in that it measures all stakeholder groups (e.g. media, analysts, NGO’s, etc. ) and it is focused on corporate reputation, not the user experience or brand equity.

Defining The Role of Marketing

With a clearer understanding of the most important drivers of brand experience, the question then becomes: “what’s marketing’s role in driving it?” Developed by the Marketing Leadership Council and Corporate Executive Board, the “Marketing Alignment Survey” is a great tool to foster discussion and alignment as to the role of Marketing in your organization. It surveys non Marketing functions to understand, across the full range of Marketing activities, both the perceived importance and impact of the Marketing organization. This helps answer the question: “does everyone agree on what marketing should be doing?” and if not, to define gaps and how to bridge them.

It’s vitally important that within the firm, there’s  a central point of influence over the key drivers that impact brand experience. It’s less important that Marketing have direct functional control–and in most organizations it’s not realistic or appropriate that they do so. What’s most important is that the Marketing organization play a leading role in ensuring that there is focus on the most important touchpoints that bring the brand to life.

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How Authentic Is Your Brand ?

June 23, 2009

Authenticity is a term we hear bandied about a lot these days, but it’s one that you need to pay particular attention to. In a recent post “What Marketers Can Learn From The Obama Campaign — Part 2,” I talked about the importance of authenticity in the Obama campaign. Authentic means honest, real and not manufactured–adhering to facts and supported by experience. And it’s increasing in importance because of several key factors.

What’s Driving The Need for Authenticity ?

  1. Crisis — The economic crisis revealed that things aren’t exactly what they seemed. Or, as Warren Buffet puts it: “when the tide goes out, you find out who’s wearing bathing suits.”
  2. Digital — The web has democratized information and consumer sharing. Brands are increasingly unable to hide as consumers uncover facts, inconvenient truths and rapidly share information. Advergirl.com has an excellent post on this at: “Social Media Demands Authentic Brands.
  3. Marketing Excess — An awful lot of Marketing feels like used car sales. Companies exaggerate their product benefits and often avoid the reality of their product experience. Marketers are partly responsible for consumers becoming jaded and less trustworthy of their messages.

Financial services marketing is a case in point. Battered by the economic crisis, subject to negative sentiment across the web, and Marketing that tells people to trust and be confident. In the land of happy, content, retired people walking on the beach and playing with grandchildren, few brands stand out as being different — and authentic.

Charles Schwab — An Authentic Brand

One brand that does is Charles Schwab. No doubt you’ve seen the unusual looking Schwab ads:

The Charles Schwab Brand -- An Authentic Marketing Message

The Charles Schwab Brand -- An Authentic Marketing Message

The ads have the air of authenticity. Why ? Because the Schwab brand:

  • Is irreverent– willing to say what other brands would rather not have you hear.
  • Shows real people saying what they think– and connecting with consumers real world experience.
  • Encourages a conversation: “talk to Chuck.” How can a brand be authentic without conversation ?

Becky Saeger, Head of Marketing at Charles Schwab notes:

“One of the most important and challenging things financial services companies are faced with today is rebuilding the trust of consumers. This principle of authenticity is central to rebuilding trust and conveying that you are trustworthy: You cannot TELL people to trust you, or even convince them to by telling them why they should. Every manifestation of your brand–from communications to products to human or web interactions–needs to be true to the promises of the brand, and deliver the actions that are proof of those promises and collectively signal trustworthiness. The only way I know to do that is for your brand and your marketing, and therefore all of the above, to be grounded in the authentic purpose and values of your company. Yes, this is a huge and potentially lofty goal, maybe even more an aspiration. But how else can you trust that your brand–buffeted about in the wild and crazy, social, digital, consumer-in-control world we live in–will rise above the fray and earn the trust of those very savvy and often disappointed consumers?”

Authenticity and Creativity

A final point. Authentic doesn’t equal boring. The Schwab campaign is very differentiated in the financial services space. The use of rotoscope animation enables the campaign to both feel authentic and look differentiated at the same time. A real creative hat trick and one that other Marketers could learn from.

So how does your brand rate on the authenticity scale ?

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Publishing — The Future of Marketing ?

June 16, 2009
There’s a move afoot that suggests Marketing is morphing into Publishing. In a recent webinar by Joe Pulizzi, a thought leader for content marketing, and founder of  Junta42, Pulizzi advocates the creation of a “publications” function as a central part of any web 2.0 marketing organization. By publishing, I don’t mean just a magazine or newsletter, on-line or off, but rather a full-fledged ability to engage customers in content which surrounds and supports a core value proposition. Is this the future of Marketing ?
Is Marketing Becoming More Like Publishing ?

Is Marketing Becoming More Like Publishing ?

White papers have been around forever and are a staple of B2B marketing. Magazine and newsletters are nothing new either. But, the role of publishing and content in the marketing mix came into tighter focus in 2001 with the publication of “The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual,” a sometimes over-the-top, but provocative treatise on how the web will (and has) enabled “conversational” marketing and the end of the “command and control” marketing hierarchy which reigned supreme for decades. The idea, fairly original at the time, logically suggests that marketing communications will become more complex, organic and conversational going forward.

This means that content will become more important–whether created internally or by users. Wikipedia defines publishing as “the process of production and dissemination of literature or information – the activity of making information available for public view.”  So, is Marketing becoming more like publishing ? Well, yes and no. By the traditional definition above, Marketing already is publishing. But the explosion of new media channels, information, user generated content, etc. all of which are being enabled by web 2.0, are taking content marketing to another level entirely. And this has major implications for the Marketing mix and organization.

4 Basic Content Questions

  1. Customer Needs — It’s so basic, it should hardly need stating. Content Marketing starts with your customers needs and your value proposition. There’s a tendency to rush out and begin development of content without asking basic questions like: what, if any, kind of content does my customer want ? How does content support my core value proposition ? How will it engage my customers and better meet their needs ? How will it differentiate my brand versus competition ? Answering these questions is key to deciding if a content strategy is right for your brand.
  2. Build vs. Buy — Content can be sourced internally or externally. Huge amounts of content already exist and the CMO needs to ask the tough questions: do we have any business getting into the business of creating content ? Can we really do this better than what’s out there today ? Are we better off simply buying or partnering to acquire the needed content ? What’s the role of user generated content ? Let’s face it–we’re an invention culture and need to be open to the idea that perhaps there really are others–even our customers–who could do this better.
  3. Channels — What are the most impactful Marketing contact points in our category ? Which channels–RSS feeds, blogs, news release, e-newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, etc. should we be using to communicate our content ? Are different channels required for different content ? How will they be integrated ?
  4. Organizational Structure and Processes — A new organization structure is needed for content marketing. Who creates new content ? Is it the old publishing group, or some new expanded function ? Content marketing demands new processes as well. Who approves ? When content drives organic exchanges between customers and the company, what legal and regulatory processes need to be in place to safeguard the company?

There is no doubt that Marketing IS becoming more like publishing. There are greater opportunities than ever before to develop content which envelops your core value proposition and enhances and differentiates your product or service versus competition. There are more channels to disseminate this content. And, new organizational structures and processes are required to manage this content in an integrated and impactful manner. If this is the future of Marketing, it’s one that offers Marketers greater degrees of freedom to win in the marketplace than ever before.


What CMO’s Can Learn From the Obama Campaign — Part 2

June 9, 2009

In an earlier Blog post, I asked the question “Can politics teach Marketers anything?” and answered with some learnings from David Plouffe, the chief architect of President Obama’s election campaign. Plouffe recently spoke at the M50 CMO Summit I attended.  To summarize that post, I said Marketers could learn two important lessons from the Obama campaign:

  1. The importance of staking out a brand position and sticking with it. Consistency counts.
  2. The ability to leverage the brand’s strategic message across all relevent marketing touchpoints in a coordinated and integrated manner.

These are Marketing truths often forgotten in even the best Marketing organizations. But what else can we learn from the Obama campaign?

Brand Obama: A Consistent Message Across Media Channels

Brand Obama: An Authentic and Transparent Brand

Plouffe outlined how transparency and authenticity, both of which are discussed in depth in the excellent book “Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online,” were the twin character traits to the Obama campaign. In Marketing terms, these would be Obama’s “Brand Character,” or personality. The two are related and both speak to what is required for a brand — Obama or otherwise — to inspire trust and confidence.

Authenticity

Obama, according to Plouffe, wanted the campaign to be “authentic.” Over time, they learned — sometimes painfully — about authenticity and what it really meant to voters. When Will I Am came forward with the idea for his “We Are The Ones” song, the original idea was for the Obama campaign to produce and promote it. While control can be a good thing, Obama rejected the offer because he felt it wouldn’t be authentic. So Will I Am produced the song and it was a huge YouTube sensation with 3.5 million views–an authentic tribute to Obama.

In another example, Plouffe developed short video clips explaining to supporters various campaign topics–e.g. the Obama strategy in Florida; how they would use the web; etc. After several low production hand-held videos, someone in the campaign naturally decided the videos there was a need for more professional video. This led to new slicker, high production value video–which immediately prompted a barrage of complaints from supporters. Low tech was good–and authentic.

Transparency

Plouffe held a contrarian view when it came to campaign strategy and tactics–to be completely open and transparent with supporters.  He did so with the full knowledge that the McCain campaign would ultimately see the communications and understand the Obama strategy. He felt the benefits outweighed the risks. 

Example:  the Florida strategy. Plouffe developed a video which outlined exactly how they intended to win supporters, how much money they would need, and how it would be spent. Of course, the Republicans learned what the Democrats would do in Florida. But transparency was part of brand Obama and the video helped energize and ultimately win the Florida campaign.

Interestingly, the Obama administration is now extending transparency beyond the campaign with the launch of Data.gov, a website designed to disseminate government data to voters

What Marketers Can Learn

First, understand your consumer.  The Obama campaign understood that American voters were looking for authenticity and transparency in their president. Like good Marketers, they understood their consumer–and had a clearly defined brand character to address their needs.

Second, communicate in an authentic manner.  Authentic means honest, real and not manufactured–adhering to facts and supported by experience. The Obama campaign had a clear message, but beyond this, they communicated in a tone and style that increased the believability of their message.

Third, communicate with transparency.  Transparency means telling people exactly what’s happening and what they would like to know–even when there is some risk in doing so. Obama’s strategy for Florida was very clear to Democratic supporters–and Republicans as well.

So what did Obama gain with authenticity and transparency ? Trust and confidence. When people believe they are being told the full story, they’re treated as adults, and being told the truth, they’re more likely to trust and have confidence–something in very short supply for many brands these days.


Should Marketers be in the Business of Selling Media ?

June 4, 2009

Target’s announcement this week that they’ve struck a media deal with Daily Candy is, on the surface, a straightforward attempt to monetize their large web site traffic and create a new revenue stream.  Daily Candy is a free daily e-mail from a website which focuses on leading edge fashion, food, and fun. Target has been advertising in DailyCandy e-mails for some time now.

DailyCandy

The deal, announced on Monday, creates a co-branded  “Red Hot Shop” in collaboration with Daily Candy, which features “a monthly dose of chic, unique, and sometimes offbeat” in the form of DailyCandy editors product picks on the Target web site.

Marketing Innovation ?

Is this a smart new Marketing idea that other Marketers should emulate ? Or, is this nothing more than a brazen play to generate a new revenue stream during a very challenging and difficult economic environment ?

It all starts with the Brand and the key equities you want to own. Target has done a great job over the past ~10 years of establishing itself as the mass merchandising retailer that brings you fashionable products at a reasonable price. DailyCandy squarely fits the Target “fashion” equity and brings an element of street cred as well.

Target Daily Candy

Guilding Principles

  • Do you have the same target consumer ?If so, it might make sense to evaluate a media partnership like the Target / DailyCandy one. In Target’s case, both Target and DailyCandy are focused on women interested in fashionable merchandise and ideas.
  • Do you share the same brand equities ?If not, you risk diluting your brand by devoting valuable web space to a brand that doesn’t reinforce and support what you want to stand for. What I really like about the Target / DailyCandy partnership is their focus on leveraging the DailyCandy fashion expertise and equity–similar to Target’s–to recommend products for sale on Target’s web site.
  • Would a media partnership help achieve your marketing objectives ? Building your core brand equity is a never-ending objective. Target also has the potential to bring in new shoppers and/or increase share of wallet via new merchandise.
  • Does the economic model make sense for both partners ?You’re giving up important real estate on your web site. There is an opportunity cost to devoting your space to someone else–does the partnership deliver a better financial return? It sure looks that way–Target leverages DailyCandy’s fashion expertise and street cred to sell more product, while DailyCandy benefits from Target’s large consumer reach and advertising. And they both build their “fashion” equity.
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I’ve always admired Target as a leading retail Marketer (one of the few), and this is another great example of them innovating through media, web and smart partnership marketing.

What do you think ?

 


The Responsible Way to Improve Your Marketing

June 1, 2009

What’s a small player to do when facing behemoths in a heavily marketed category ? How do you stake out a credible position when the category benefit is already “owned” by the big guys ? One approach is to discover and exploit a unique and compelling consumer insight.

Insurance is a dull category that yearns for creative Marketing–hence the Cavemen, Ducks, Lizards, NBA stars, etc. Everyone knows the category benefit (security) and each firm has a different way of expressing it. There’s Allstate’s advertising “You’re in good hands with Allstate;”  and of course, State Farm is still mining their decades old advertising slogan “Like a good neighbour, State Farm is there;”   etc.  And, of course, there’s AFLAC and GEICO. In the land of insurance behemoths, what’s a small player to do ?

Liberty Mutual Print Advertising -- Using A Great Insight

Liberty Mutual Print Advertising -- Using A Great Insight

How about discover and exploit a compelling consumer insight ? That’s exactly what Liberty Mutual has done with the “responsibility” insight. Like most great insights, it’s so simple that when you hear it, you think: “I knew that.” In fact, as Jack Trout points out in his book “In Search of the Obvious,” good ideas are simple, understandable, easy to explain, and intuitive. The insight:  most consumers think insurance companies frequently don’t do the right thing. Everyone has either a firsthand experience or a story from a friend or family member of an insurance company doing the wrong thing.

In my case, it was 1976 and I was driving my parents Volkswagen way too fast when the road changed from pavement to gravel. I fearlessly tried to negotiate a sharp turn at 60 mph., but the car skidded sideways and rolled over multiple times onto a public golf course.  Some golfers on the 9th hole rescued me from the car, where I was hanging upside down  in the shoulder harness — unhurt.  In this case,  State Farm did the wrong thing by cancelling my parents insurance — after 20+ years of family accident free driving !

Liberty Mutual stakes out the bold claim that it’s the insurance company that does the responsible thing — and by inference, that others may be less so.  My favorite Liberty Mutual ad  focuses on a parent doing the right thing after school with the kids.

And not only have they used this insight in their ads, they’ve now exploited it as THE marketing idea with the “Responsibility Project.”  Liberty Mutual has extended beyond ads into social media, as their web site invites consumers to share their stories of people doing the right thing and behaving in a responsible way–a great way to engage consumers and reinforce their brand benefit in the process.

Paul Alexander, head of marketing for Liberty Mutual, says: 

In a category where you find geckos, cavemen, hot dogs without a bun, and Flo taking you down the “Dave” isle, we believe there is room for a brand to have a serious conversation about responsibility with it’s consumers and customers.  More importantly, we do not want to come across as preachy or finger-wagging.  Rather, we want to encourage a conversation, especially around issues where there is more than one right answer.

So what’s the lesson here ? When you can’t easily differentiate based on your benefit, consider the possibility of identifying and leveraging a unique consumer insight. Developing great consumer insights is hard work. There are  several excellent books on the topic, including “Hitting the Sweet Spot: How Consumer Insights Can Inspire Better Marketing and Advertising.”

The most important learning here is to relentlessly focus on understanding your consumer and developing great insights. It’s the responsible thing to do, and in the best cases, yields better marketing plans and even better business results.