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Your brand is defined by the UI between your company and your consumers

March 24th, 2008 francois Posted in best practices, customer service, marketing, marketing communications, word of mouth 4 Comments »

You brand is defined by the consumer, not by you – I think everyone can agree with that. In the same breath, most marketing pundits will add the fact that you can no longer control your brand – an assertion I am not sure goes hand in hand with the first one.

You brand gets defined by the UI (User Interface) of your company, the interface through which your customers and prospects interact with your company. That interface gets determined by pre-sale activities – i.e., advertising, retail layout, retail personnel attitude, telemarketing, sales people’s knowledge of the industry, etc -, as well as immediate post-sale activities – i.e., packaging, ease of use to set up the products, available help options, etc. -, and the long term post sale activities – i.e., telephone support, return policies, warranty policies, on-site support, etc. That makes up a lot of links in the chain that determines your brand in the mind of the consumers which your company controls.

So in effect, you do control the brand in the mind of the consumer. If some link in the chain is broken, meaning not supporting the overall brand promise you are trying to establish for your company, that is when you lose control of your brand. That is when people will start talking with one another about the fact that what you promise and what you deliver is different. Once that starts, you should focus on fixing the overall UI of your company instead of getting into communication fire-fighting mode or crisis communication mode.



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Community vs. content – AdAge and the OPA get it wrong.

March 13th, 2008 francois Posted in advertising, buying behaviour, Consumer generated media, Interesting Links, marketing, social media, social networking, word of mouth 1 Comment »

[photopress:No_comparison_sm.jpg,full,alignright]The Online Publisher Association announced that it added Community as a category to its Internet Activity Index (IAI). So they will now measure how much time consumers spend online with Content, Communications, Commerce, Search and Community.

The OPA defines community as:

“Web sites and applications that combine user-generated content with communications in order to foster relationships between individual members and groups of members. Many Community sites are content driven, and they were previously accounted for in the Content category. However Community’s content is largely user-generated, and when merged with communication, creates a specific category of online activity.”

The IAI numbers for January show that consumers spent 42.7% of their online time interacting with content, 28.7% with communications, 16.1% with commerce, 7.5% with community and 5.0% with search.

AdAge picked up on the story, declaring “When It Comes to Time Spent Online, Content Trumps Community.”

But wait a minute here, adding community as a category at the same level as content, communications, search and commerce, is like comparing apples and oranges. Or better yet, comparing apples and oranges with air or water. Communities are combinations of content, commerce, communications and search. And communities affect the usage pattern of all the above categories and vice versa. So if I am spending time on Amazon.com, am I spending time with commerce, content, search or community? Obviously the end result is commerce if I buy something, but it could also be searching without buying or interacting with content (both user generated reviews and published content) without commerce. The fact that Amazon is a community which leverages my personal profile very well (another component of communities) is determining my interactions and time consumption on that site. The same can be said for many other sites that combine content with community. If I am spending time on the WSJ Health blog, I am spending time with content or community? If as a car buff I spend time on Carspace.com, I am spending time with commerce, content or community? Would I spend as much time conducting commerce, searching for stuff or interacting with the content on those sites if there were no community component to them?

Probably not…

Besides the fact something does not sit right with the categories, many conclusions drawn from the new numbers by AdAge and the IPA are equally flawed. Jim Nail at the Cymphony’s Influence 2.0 blog captures those flaws in detail in his post today (well worth the read). A couple of highlights include:

  • The fact that page views per person in content dropped 225 pages suggests that a number of content sites were just moved to community.
  • Content sites show 480 pages per month per user vs. 380 pages for community sites. So from an ad perspective, the reach may be just the same.
  • Another factor not reflected in the new numbers is influence. If a third of people below 30 don’t make buying decisions before checking with their social networks, the impact of communities on the commerce is obviously not reflected in those numbers.

We should of course remember the agendas that both organizations are representing – those of advertisers and publishers.



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Another lesson from politics – did Obama win Texas?

March 12th, 2008 francois Posted in marketing communications, public relations, word of mouth 2 Comments »

You would think it would be a clear-cut answer, right? The one that wins the most delegates through the two-tiered election process wins…

Yesterday CNN announced “Texas Caucus Win Estimated” (for Obama), the New York Times today is still talking about Clinton’s big win in Texas (they do not even specify that the win was in the Texas primaries, which would technically be correct), and the Boston Globe keeps talking about her big win in the Texas primaries as well (as late as Monday). Yet as early as Thursday of last week it looked like Obama was going to win Texas with more delegates than Clinton – a ratio that even party officials were agreeing would hold through the ongoing tally for the caucus part of the election.

If a simple story, which can be backed by straight calculus, can get distorted to the point of confusing readers and voters by some of the best known media outlets – how do you think you are ever going to control the message around your worldwide innovative feature-rich, robust and scalable widget?

Let’s face it marketers, you just cannot count on people to retell a story the right way… It’s not just that you are not in control of the message (which is not a new thing) – you have to plan for it going seriously wrong.

There are some great lessons to be learned in the world of politics!



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The biggest influencers are not the most connected

March 11th, 2008 francois Posted in Interesting Links, marketing, word of mouth 1 Comment »

A new research study by CNET – Understanding Influence, and Making It Work For You: A CNET Networks Study (full PDF here – via Guy Kawasaki) – finds that many word of mouth programs may in fact be targeted at the wrong people.

The three-part research found that because of their sheer number, the group of people who wields the most influence is in fact not the most connected but instead the moderately connected.

Other interesting findings from the research include:

  • Influencers are primarily motivated by the desire to help others – not to demonstrate and get recognition for their expertise
  • Most people have multiple areas of interest and influence others in more than one category
  • People consider information to be valuable if it is BOTH unique and trustworthy, and sources that provide unique and trusted information will be referred over and over again
  • Influencers tend to be active members in their online communities
  • influencers rely so heavily on technology, information that is provided in easily shareable electronic formats is much more likely to be forwarded

The conclusion of the report: “Influence is not, in fact, exclusive, but is something we all share. Influence is not a function of charisma so much as it’s a function of human nature – people are alike in more ways than they differ.”

Of course, we need to keep in mind that this study is sponsored by an organization that benefits from marketers taking a broad shot-gun approach to marketing/advertising instead of trying to pinpoint content/messages to a select few.

Nevertheless, it does provide a few interesting questions that you may want to ask yourself before engaging in your next marketing campaign:

  • Is the information you make available to communities unique and trustworthy? Can it be coming from you, the marketer, or should you find other people to tell your stories?
  • Is your information actionable and retell-able?
  • Are you targeting the right communities, or are you being narrow minded in the way you focus on communities of interest?


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The New Influencers

December 11th, 2007 francois Posted in marketing, social media, social networking, word of mouth 2 Comments »

The Society for New Communications Research released preliminary results of their New Influencer Study at the SNCR Research Symposium last week.

While there is no question that social media is rapidly gaining importance, it was interesting to see how they are (or not) measuring the effects of social media initiatives. Only 51% reported to be measuring the effects, and of those, the metrics they most value are enhancement of relationships with key audiences, enhancement of reputation, customer awareness of program and comments/posts relevant to organization/products.

As was brought up in the discussion following the presentation last week – it is interesting to see how soft most of those measurements are. First off, how many companies really measure “enhancement” of relationships or reputation? And how many measure customer awareness? Sure, large consumer-facing companies probably still do some of that – but aren’t those yesterday’s measurements cooked up by the advertising industry? Those that were meant to hide the fact that advertising cannot be effectively measured?

Surely we can come up with better metrics to measure the impact of social media initiatives – what about new customer acquisition, customer loyalty and customer lifecycle value, new product innovation success ratios, return on information, and customer referral ratios & values.



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Is the customer really in charge?

October 10th, 2007 francois Posted in marketing, word of mouth 3 Comments »

So in the past couple of years there has been a lot of talk about the democratization of media, citizen marketing, the amateur hour, and other themes & memes pointing to the fact that the customer is now in charge. He owns the message; she decides what happens to the brand, etc.

Fact is – the vendors are no longer is charge. Nobody would argue against that point anymore.

But does that automatically equate with saying that the customer is now in charge?

Academic research about democratic sites like DIGG shows that a majority of what makes it to the front page comes from a very small number of people – in fact, researchers talk about the “tyranny of the minority.” Other research, such as the one done by Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell and reported in their Citizen Marketers book, finds that the percentage of people who actually create and broadcast content is 1%.

So is the customer really in charge? Or is it a small group of non-democratically elected loudmouths who now controls the message?

This is just one of the topics that we will talk about this afternoon during the interview with Jackie Huba.



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Comparing Wal-Mart and Target on Facebook

October 1st, 2007 francois Posted in Consumer generated media, marketing, social networking, word of mouth 1 Comment »

Both Target and Wal-Mart have sponsored groups on Facebook – both of which are targeted at college kids.

Target has over 7,000 members and mostly positive comments in a vibrant set of discussions. The Wal-Mart group on the other hand has a little over 1,200 members, no discussions are allowed, and the wall postings are mostly negative.

What is the difference do you think, except for the fact that a large portion of the population believes that one of the two companies is truly evil?

The Wal-Mart home page looks like another interactive ad.. The Target home page is more inviting and enlists the help of users to co-create the experience. Any other differences that you can think of that would result in such a difference in membership and tone of conversation?

We can take the discussion to Facebook – in fact I started a thread on the subject in the Marketing 2.0 group, where we now have more members than the Wal-Mart Facebook group.

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The value of word-of-mouth

September 25th, 2007 francois Posted in word of mouth 1 Comment »

The latest issue of the Harvard Business Review has an article on how to calculate the value of customer referrals (article not online yet).

They conducted two studies – one in telecom and one in financial services. Some interesting findings from those calculations include:

  • People refer way less than they say they do
  • The customer referral value is higher than the customer life-cycle value
  • The people with the highest customer life-cycle value are not the ones with the highest referral value

The importance of these findings are twofold. First you need to segment your customers along the customer life-cycle value axis, but also along the customer referral value axis. That will enable you to target your incentives to groups to either increase their usage or increase their referrals, or both. Second, this research shows that customers will low customer life-cycle value can in fact have a higher value to your company through referral value than those with high customer life-cycle value.

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Beyond Buzz – the next generation of word-of-mouth marketing

May 14th, 2007 francois Posted in book pointers, marketing, word of mouth No Comments »

beyond buzz.jpgI have been remiss at writing about a few good books I read in the past few months. My reading list is also desperately out of date…

One book which definitely should interest any marketing practitioner is a book by my good friend Lois Kelly, who also blogs on the Foghound blog.

The book – called Beyond Buzz, The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing – is a great “how to” book with a ton of actionable ideas. The author does a great job clarifying the distinction between making meaning and making buzz. She also teaches you how to uncover interesting things about your company or product and turn them into “point of views” that people will want to talk to you about, she tells you how to organize customer listening tours, and much more. The book also provides some great frameworks and questionnaires to help you turn word-of-mouth strategies into actionable plans that will work, and not fizzle out or backfire, as many of them do.

Definitely a great book to have on your office bookshelf.

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More research on viral marketing – and supporting the limited role of “influentials”

January 30th, 2007 francois Posted in Consumer generated media, marketing, word of mouth 3 Comments »

Right on the heels of learning that the influentials may in fact not be all that influential in causing trends and other social “epidemics”, here comes more research (pdf) confirming the limited role of the influentials and heeding marketers that some viral marketing techniques could easily backfire on them.

Jure Leskoved from Carnegie Mellon, Lada Adamic from the University of Michigan and Bernardo Huberman from HP Labs collaborated on this research project where they looked at the dynamics of viral marketing.

Here are some of their findings:

  • We find that most recommendation chains do not grow very large, often terminating with the initial purchase of a product.
  • Marketers should take heed that providing excessive incentives for customers to recommend
  • product purchases are not far from usual 80-20 rule (the top twenty percent of the products account for 20 percent of the sales), with the top 20% of the products contributing to about half the sales
  • individuals’ likelihood of purchasing a product initially increases as they receive additional recommendations for it, but a saturation point is quickly reached. Interestingly, as more recommendations are sent between the same two individuals, the likelihood that they will be heeded decreases
  • Marketers should take heed that providing excessive incentives for customers to recommend products could backfire by weakening the credibility of the very same links they are trying to take advantage of.
  • …we find that the probability of purchasing a product increases with the number of recommendations received, but quickly saturates to a constant and relatively low probability. This means individuals are often impervious to the recommendations of their friends, and resist buying items that they do not want.
  • we find that there are limits to how influential high degree nodes are in the recommendation network. As a person sends out more and more recommendations past a certain number for a product, the success per recommendation declines. This would seem to indicate that individuals have influence over a few of their friends, but not everybody they know.
  • Finally, we presented a model which shows that smaller and more tightly knit groups tend to be more conducive to viral marketing.

This paper also exposes the potential long term negative effects of commercializing relationships on the value of personal recommendations and word of mouth in general – a practice used aggressively by some well known marketers.

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