16 Jul

A quick word on the Old Spice campaign

It’s well worth checking out Marshall Kirkpatrick’s excellent round-up of the social media marketing phenomenon of the moment, the brilliant series of videos that Wieden + Kennedy have done for Old Spice. In my opinion, this is probably the best example of a brand using social media to engage directly; cutting dozens of short videos with the actor, Isaiah Mustafa, answering specific Tweets in character was a masterstroke. It’s simply brilliant, and I am sure we will see many knock-offs in short order.

On a buzz level, this campaign simply can not be beaten, so it will be fascinating to see the long-term impact of this campaign on sales of Old Spice. If there is a big (and sustained) boost, then I predict that this will be seen as a watershed moment for social media marketing (as Mashable, somewhat prematurely, has already said); however, if not much happens, then the sceptics will be (at least somewhat) vindicated. One of the interesting things to come out of my interviews so far is the level of scepticism that exists amongst practitioners as to the value of social media, in particular due to the absence of easy tools for understanding return on investment. Such views would certainly be emboldened by the failure of this campaign to alter Old Spice’s market share, especially given the huge hype and exposure that it has brought the brand. Of course, it may simply be the case that there is only so much that marketing can do to reposition a product like Old Spice, considering its, um, distinctive scent. In any case, this is a fascinating test for the proposition that social media represents a new paradigm of marketing, so it is well worth paying attention to what happens to this story over the months and years to come.

13 Jul

Real life social networks

Paul Adam, Senior User Experience Researcher at Google, has recently posted this fascinating paper on real life social networks. Well worth a look.

According to Mashable, this paper is rumoured to be the basis of Google’s next venture into social networking. I remain fairly skeptical about the consumer need for new social networks; now that Facebook is nearing total penetration of the Western world, what’s the incentive for individual consumers to move to a new platform and take the time to rebuild their friendship networks? After the failure (more or less) of Google Buzz, I’m surprised that Google would be moving so quickly back into trying to create its own network, when it would make more sense, in my opinion, to better figure out how to exploit opportunities with the existing social networks.

In any case, if they want to be successful with this new venture, they’ll need to figure out how to deliver something that is both user-friendly and unique, that will allow users to do things that they cannot currently do with Facebook or Twitter. On the revenue side, I suppose I can see the potential of Google to leverage their existing advertising relationships, but search marketing is a different beast from social media marketing, so it remains to be seen how enthusiastic major brands are about having to use another social platform.

9 Jul

There’s always a person on the other side of those pixels …

Note: This is an expanded version of a comment that I left on Jason Falls’ post Six Steps for Dealing with Detractors on Social Media Explorer

Anyone who has ever read the comments section of a blog or a YouTube video will know that one of the defining features of online communications is the degree to which so many people feel so comfortable being intensely, vitriolically rude. There is something about the internet experience that allows people to slough off their inhibitions and speak to others in a way that they never would in real life. Sure, some people are incredibly rude in day to day life, but in general, this kind of behaviour is far worse online.

Why is this? I think that there are two main reasons why people are much ruder online than they are in real life. The first is simply the fact that it can be quite easy to forget that there is a person on the other side of those disembodied pixels, whilst the second reason is the fact that there are generally no consequences to being rude to someone online, making trolling an essentially risk-free endeavour. You can be as abusive as you like, with no possibility of blowback. Easy!

Of these two reasons, the first is the one that poses the most risk to businesses doing online customer services. Since the web is such a dissasociative experience, it can be quite easy to get the tone wrong when dealing with customers through social media, especially detractors (or even outright trolls). Anyone who has ever done any customer service work will know that there is a subsection of the population that is willfully difficult, prone to pointless complaints, and needlessly hostile. They still needed to be treated with politeness and respect, even if feigned, whilst they are gently ushered away; online, the temptation to treat customers differently depending on their behaviour must always be resisted.

7 Jul

Getting digital marketing right

One of the most interesting case studies on digital marketing that I’ve read recently is this post on the Beatport blog about how three Swedish dance music producers, Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso, and Steve Angello, successfully launched their new Swedish House Mafia collaboration by following several simple steps:

  1. Creating a simple, but memorable brand
  2. Creating a catchy record
  3. Beginning marketing early in a low-key way
  4. Building anticipation step by step through a staggered release of information
  5. Using multiple social media channels (YouTube, Twitter, etc) to reach out to consumers
  6. Leveraging the individual fanbases to gain converts to the new collaboration

It really is a fascinating look at how to effectively use digital media for marketing purposes. Obviously, consumer goods are different from entertainment media, being less reliant on ‘opening big’, but there’s a lot here to learn about in terms of building and effectively utilizing buzz to get people excited about your product. Well worth a read.

2 Jul

Marketing factoid of the day

This is from a Pew Center report on the effects of the recession on the American public. 71% of people switched to cheaper brands! Not surprising in a sense, but a good indication of how brand loyalty is so often over-estimated, especially by professional marketers who overestimate the actual value of brands (which is the argument made by Gerzema and Lebar in their book The Brand Bubble).

A decent dose of skepticism is always healthy.

1 Jul

New pages added

As you can see to the side (and at the top), I’ve now added two new reference pages, one asking for contributions, and the other providing an overview of my dissertation.

1 Jul

Social media is where the consumer is

As I have been doing my research I have been repeatedly struck by the sheer speed at which social media is becoming central to so many people’s lives. This shift comes at the expense of both traditional media (like television and radio) and other web destinations, like search engines, and it is a trend that is happening remarkably quickly. Indeed, so fast is this change that it is now more important than ever for marketers to figure out what works in the social media space, because that is where the consumer is going. Relying on the old models is no longer sufficient.

If only a few years ago social networks were primarily used for gossip and voyeuristically ogling the pictures of people you haven’t seen in a very long time, increasingly it is where people turn to for entertainment, news, and product advice.

A few examples of the new media landscape that is developing before our eyes:

Social networks are now the most popular web destinations in the UK

Social networks now receive more UK Internet visits than search engines. During May, social networks accounted for 11.88% of UK Internet visits and search engines accounted for 11.33%. May was the first ever month that social networks have been more popular than search engines in the UK.

Facebook accounts for 55% of all UK social networking visits, almost three times as many as the next most popular social network, YouTube. Twitter, one of the fastest growing and most talked about websites of the last two years, is now the third most popular social network in the UK, putting it ahead of former favourites such as Bebo and MySpace.

Although television viewing is exploding globally, this trend is occurring at the same time as tv watching habits are changing in the developed nations:

Close to a quarter of the younger respondents to a new study say that most of the video content they watch is online. And a sizable chunk of those polled said that if cable and satellite TV prices keep going up, they’re going to cut the cord …

In response to the question, “How much TV do you currently watch on the Internet/online?”, almost a quarter (23 percent) of the survey’s respondents under 25 answered “most,” another 6 percent answered “all,” and 54 percent answered “some.” That means that over four-fifths of this cohort of slightly more than 1,000 people do a fair-to-huge amount of their TV watching on the ‘Net …

But the stat that will doubtless draw the attention of cable executives and policy makers was that 15 percent of those surveyed said that “higher cable and satellite prices would drive them to watch all of their TV shows online.” Another 26 percent say they are thinking about dropping their satellite service or have actually cancelled.

Advertisers are following the action, with Facebook now the largest publisher of display ads in the United States:

Facebook has overtaken Yahoo to become the top publisher of display ads online in the US, according to ComScore.

Facebook delivered 176.3bn display ads to US users in the first three months of 2010, a 16.2% market share, more than double its share a year ago.

This shift can also be seen on the mobile internet, where American users spend half their time on social networking sites:

While the popularity of mobile social networking is widely believed, this is the first time we have been able to truly quantify just how much the category is driving adoption of the Mobile Internet with actual usage metrics … The disparity of time spent between social networking and the next category, portals, which account for 59.83 and 13.65 percent of time spent respectively, is a vivid illustration of the impact social networking has on Mobile Internet traffic in a given week.

28 Jun

Why am I looking at consumer goods brands?

In my ‘Refining the Concept Further’ post from several weeks ago, I discussed how I was scoping my original research question (how brands can use social media to reach out to and engage with their core customers) into a narrower (and hopefully better) form. As an update, I thought that it might be useful to spell out a bit more explicitly why I’ve decided to use FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) brands as the focus for my dissertation.

Before I explain why I’ve chosen FMCG’s specifically, it is worth discussing why I’ve decided to focus on a specific sector. Ideally, I would be able to look throughout the business world to try and find the best and most interesting examples of how brands are using social media for marketing purposes, but this is simply not feasible given that my deadline is the end of August and I can’t write more than 15,000 words. Therefore, I felt it was necessary for scoping reasons to choose a specific sector to focus on, otherwise I would need an entire book to cover everything of interest.

So, having established the necessity of a sectoral focus, why FMCG’s specifically? After all, since I am really interested in how brands engage with their core customers, why not choose something like automotive transport or clothes, where the consumer-brand relationship is very strong? If you look at a brand like Harley-Davidson, for instance, it has both a very strong brand identity and a very clearly defined brand community, with a powerful relationship between Harley-Davidson owners and the brand itself. Studying how Harley-Davidson engages with its core customers wouldn’t be so difficult, because it is quite clear who their core customers are, as well as how to reach them. Why choose FMCG’s, where this connection tends to be less apparent?

The answer to this question is two-fold. My first reason for looking at FMCG’s is that I think that, from a marketing perspective, it is an intrinsically interesting sector. For instance, yesterday morning as I walked around the big Sainsbury’s at Cameron Toll with my wife I was focusing on the different brands. Like most people, when I am in a supermarket I am generally on auto-pilot, focused only on finding what I am looking for, but when you actually pay attention it is quite remarkable how much choice there is in your average large supermarket. From household products to candy to beer to pasta sauces to toiletries and so on, the range and variety of branded options confronting the typical shopper is quite mind-boggling. This presents a fascinating challenge to the marketer – how do you make your brand stand out? How do you connect with the consumer so that they will choose your jar of pickles over your competitor’s?

To expand on this point, the second reason why I have chosen this sector is that it is not just interesting, but a challenge. As I mentioned earlier, there are some sectors where the core customer is quite easily definable, such as video game consoles like PlayStation3 or XBox 360. Consumer goods have much broader markets – who doesn’t purchase washing-up liquid or chocolate bars or deoderant? These are products that everyone uses and consumes, so marketing communications necessarily need to tend to the universal, but since my feeling is that social media is less adept at universal communications, the question of how to use this channel for marketing purposes becomes quite an interesting one. Who do you target, how do you identify them, and how do you communicate with them?

It’s an interesting challenge, one that I felt provided a nice way to scope the dissertation, although we shall see in the final result if I should have either defined my research question more narrowly or more broadly! Having chosen this particular sector, I am also going to have to decide after I have done my research how representative it is – does it present lessons to other businesses that are interested in social media, or is it sui generis? If it has lessons to offer, what are they? It is a fascinating challenge, and I am enjoying my work on it.

24 Jun

Who is the core customer?

Since my dissertation is on how brands can use social media to engage with their core customers, it is obviously necessary to clarify what I mean when I say ‘core customer’.

Obviously, there are many ways to define a core customer, but I will be operating from the assumption that core customers are those consumers who are the most loyal and regular buyers of a product, and that they would generally be those consumers who fall within the 80/20 bracket. 80/20 is a fact of business life, that 80% of sales typically come from 20% of products, or that 80% of profits are generated by 20% of customers.

These are the consumers that I am interested in, and they are the ones that I will be focusing on in my dissertation. The big question that I don’t have an answer for yet is to what extent this 80/20 concept maps on to mass use, every day FMCG products – I would imagine so, but I still need to confirm it in my research.

18 Jun

A few links for Friday

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to post more this week – life (and the World Cup, sadly) has got in the way. Anyways, as a small consolation, here’s a selection of interesting marketing links for the weekend:

7 Social Media truths you can ignore and still be successful – A sceptical look at some of the overblown must-do’s that are often thrown around about how to be successful at marketing through social media. Useful, given the tendency towards hyperbole on the part of many social media marketing practitioners.

Consumers placing brands under scrutiny – The global economic crisis has changed the way customers make purchases, with new criteria like value, design, and ethical concerns coming to the fore.

Does the internet make you dumber? – Not directly about marketing, but a very important article about the effect of internet usage on our brains. Worth reading and pondering the consequences for communicating messages over the web.

Food marketers face death by a thousand cuts – Public health advocates are changing tactics in their fight against junk/snack food manufacturers in the US. Will changing regulations lead these brands to shift promotional efforts to less-regulated social media?

Q&A: Reviewing and responding to online comments about your brand? – Dave Chaffey talks through several different approaches to dealing with online conversation about your brand. Interesting stuff; make sure you also check out the USAF media governance chart.


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