Monthly Archives: April 2010

Owning the Brand. Employees & Customers – Going Social Now

n fact, at the recent Social Media Advertising Consortium Social Media Salon that we hosted in the Razorfish offices, it was a key theme too. Pauline from IBM put it nicely when she said that social media is becoming like the telephone. Every department and every person needs it. Imagine if only the marketing department had telephones. How absurd that would be!

The conversations reminded me of the above slide that was part of a presentation that I gave to a Fortune 20 company CMO two years ago. I used it to explain the fact that every employee is an interface to the customer and companies need to think about them as untapped assets to leverage. Her organization had well over 100,000 employees so explaining that each employee has an influence network of at least 20 people translating into a circle of 2 million people really resonated with her. In that moment she got social influence marketing.

As we move through 2010 and figure out how to leverage this hidden asset, the question is how do you manage your brand in a world where employees can (and I believe should) be your brand advocates. Is this even possible? Does it run the risk of doing more damage to your brand than you can handle? I don’t think it does and nor do retail brands like Best Buy and Starbucks. Both are brands that I discuss in my book as ones that are leading the way with the creation of social voices – real people that speak authentically on behalf of the brand. Developing social voices has had another wonderful unintended consequence – the brands themselves have become social at the core or as I refer to them, they’ve become social brands. 

So what’s next? More companies in more industries are going to need to open up their brands to their employees and their external advocates. To let them share control of the brand. An industry where I believe we’re going to see the next big move – hospitality. The industry is inherently about customer relationships. Every employee in a hotel chain for example, is going to need to be the social voices for the brand. The question is which hotel chain will be the first to do this?

Shiv Singh of Razorfish talks about an area I had blogged about earlier at

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Brands are Bull

Since then I’ve been pointed to various writers and posts that put nice paint jobs on the cattle-burning practice that “branding” was originally — and still, in spite of all marketing spin to the contrary, remains. This here cartoon for example, which got me boiling again.

So I decided to have another go at it, partly because I don’t want the topic to die (until “branding” is exposed for the shallow thing it really is), and partly because I just read Brand Rehab, the Schupeter column in the April 10, 2010 issue of The Economist. Like too much of everything else, it’s about Tiger Woods. But, being the Economist, it’s about the money, which always focuses matters. For example,

Tiger Woods’s penchant for cocktail waitresses and porn actresses ended up costing an astonishing amount of money: two economists at the University of California, Davis, have calculated that his biggest corporate sponsors, such as Nike and Gatorade, saw as much as $12 billion wiped off the value of their shares in the wake of the scandal.

That’s twelve billion. With a B.

One company that took a huge hit, of course, was Accenture. Dig Guanabee’s Worst Tiger Woods Accenture Ads for a reminder of what all of us heavy travelers saw printed on back-lit plexiglass displays in airport concourses over the years leading up to revelations about Tiger’s personal life, after which they all disappeared. (Except, of course, on the Web.) One sample:

Accenture failed here by assuming that Tiger wasn’t human. Which is close enough to true, if you’re just looking at Tiger as a golfer. The man is not only the closest any golfer has ever come to walking robotics, but his whole golf persona has always been remarkably mechanical as well.

Turn a person into a brand, and what do you get? Something incomplete at best, and fake at worst. Borrow that human brand to represent your company, and you take some risks. Your branded celebrity might actually be a fine human being. Or they might be a philandering scumbag. Either way, the brand is a paint job. It’s not real except in the commercial dimension, and only in a narrow way even there.

The only advertiser that has stuck with Tiger since the bimbo bombs started going off is another landmark brand: Nike. The latest Nike/Tiger ad features the golfer’s sad face, staring at the camera, while the voice of his dead father speaks. “I want to find out what your thinking was,” Earl Woods says.”I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything.” Well, one thing the rest of us learned was that Tiger was with one of his mistresses on the night he got word that his father had died.

Nike, the brand, famously supports its sponsored athletes because the company is about athletes and athletics. Which is all fine. What matters is what the athletes do on the field, on the court, on the golf course. Sure. But what matters more is what these companies actually do.

Here in Reality, companies buy Accenture’s services. Individuals buy Nike’s shoes. None of what customers buy from either company gets an ounce of substantive worth from Tiger Woods, or from anything those companies do with their “branding” strategies, no matter how much those strategies serve to help sales and stock prices.

We live in an age when we can kick tires hard. Accenture’s and Nike’s tires are not Tiger Woods. And Tiger Woods, even if he’s long been a lying sack of shit, isn’t a tire either. He’s a human being, and that’s what makes him interesting. Not what his golf game says about companies that pay him.

In his comment below my Brands are boring post, Chris Carfi pointed to this post on BlogHer in which Yvonne, a blogger there, unloaded on people who insist she act like a blogging brand, rather than the human being she’s been all along:

Blogging as I know it has changed.″ target=”_blank”>Woman with Mouth Stitched Shut

And I just can’t keep up. Because this blog isn’t a business. My blog is personal.

I just want to keep writing about my life. About my kids. About my struggles with health and weight and body image. I just want to write.

I feel like a complete misfit in blogging, which is so weird because I’ve been doing this since 2002 and what the hell?

Blogging is a business! Build your brand! YOUR BRAAANNNNNDDDD!

There’s no denying that I’ve been given some pretty amazing opportunities through blogging. (Interviewing the cast of New Adventures of Old Christine. Meeting Tony Hawk.) And that still amazes me. But that’s not WHY I do it. That will never be why I do it.

And suddenly, it feel like — if that’s not why I’m doing it, why even bother?

I used to be able to sit down and write a post about the most trivial things — like my trip to the doctor’s office yesterday, for example — hit publish, enjoy the comments and move on to the next post. Now I doubt every post. “This isn’t good enough.” “No one will care about that.” “People are writing about HEALTH CARE REFORM AND YOU’RE WRITING ABOUT PEEING WHILE YOU SNEEZE YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.”

I also used to be able to write about important things, like depression or body image and feel safe. Feel like it mattered. Like by writing my story I was helping people and that people were helping me by reading, by sharing their stories. I know that is still true, but sometimes? I feel like the stories aren’t being heard because we’re all too busy about traffic and page views and twitter followers and OUR BRRRANNND.

And that’s fine! It’s wonderful that women are finding success because of their blogs — I mean it, it makes me so proud. But also? A little sad. Sad that those of us who are just here for the writing, for the stories, for the good content are feeling so out of place and irrelevant.

I don’t even know where I’m going with this anymore other than to say I’m struggling with blogging right now and I hope that by writing this out I will be able to make some sort of peace with it all and stop over thinking this shit and JUST START WRITING AGAIN BECAUSE I MOTHER FUCKING LOVE TO WRITE.

Amen, sister.

Interesting post by Doc Searles

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Business Schools Respond to Demand for Use of Social Media

As companies increasingly use social media for marketing campaigns, they are having to learn from some very public online blunders. In Habitat’s case, it blamed an “overenthusiastic intern” for the spam-like promotional messages. The lesson: social media are not marketing toys to be handled by interns but a professional communications channels that require understanding of the technology and the community that uses it.

Brands might be alert to the power of social media to engage consumers on a personal level, but there is still a strong demand at the hiring end for candidates possessing the skills to turn these online channels into effective marketing platforms.

Mark Begley, who is head of creative and design recruitment at Major Players, a London-based recruitment company, is one of the recruiters under pressure to supply this demand.

“Most of the job specs we are receiving have a requirement for social media knowledge,” Mr. Begley said. “However, a limited number of candidates actually have that experience.”

To meet this demand for education in social media strategy, several top business schools are incorporating courses on social networks into their M.B.A. curriculums. These include Harvard Business School; London Business School; Insead, the international business school based in Fontainebleau, France; and the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, known as H.E.C., in Paris.

M.B.A. curriculums are geared toward students with business intelligence, knowledge of communication trends and a flair for innovation. Social network courses aim to build on their existing skills to teach an understanding of social media, of how to build marketing strategies within social networks and of how to track their effectiveness.

Industry experience is important: knowing how to upload a video to YouTube, or contribute to a Wikipedia page, is not enough. “When it comes to interviewing younger graduates for social media-focused roles,” said Mr. Begley, “they might live and breathe this way of communicating in their personal lives, but the problem is that they can’t transfer this experience into the commercial world.”

Professor Andrew Stephen, an assistant professor of marketing at Insead, offers an “advertising and social media strategy” M.B.A. elective. He is now teaching the course at Insead’s Fontainebleau campus, following a first run of the elective at the university’s Singapore site. Student enthusiasm is such that the course is offered three times in the academic year.

“Social media is the ‘Wild West’ of advertising and marketing communications channels,” Professor Stephen has written in his course outline for students. “It is a fast-growing, ever-evolving, innovative, and entrepreneurial space that, despite its increasing ubiquity, is not well understood from a strategic marketing perspective.”

Because of the relative newness of social media and their rapid evolution, there is no assigned textbook for the course. Students are expected to follow industry-specific blogs like Mashable and Groundswell to keep up with developments.

Professor Stephen has developed the course content largely through speaking to people involved in the social media industry, and listening to the issues they deal with on a strategic level. The classes are a combination of original lectures, guest lectures and case discussions of recent social media marketing campaigns. Students are also required to participate in a team project in which they develop and implement social media marketing strategies for real-world clients.

As part of the most recent course at Fontainebleau, students will work on a project for the luxury brand Hermès, generating detailed social media marketing strategy ideas for the brand. The idea for the project came last year when Professor Stephen heard Robert Chavez, the chief executive of Hermès U.S.A., talking at Columbia Business School about how brands like Hermès should be using social media as part of their marketing and public relations efforts.

Like Professor Stephen’s course, classes in “Internet Marketing” at London Business School revolve around real, hands-on projects with actual clients.

“This is a learn-by-doing class,” Professor Daniel Goldstein, assistant professor of marketing at L.B.S., wrote on the syllabus outline for the M.B.A. elective he taught last year. The course required that students participate in the 2009 Google Online Marketing Challenge, in which teams were given $200 worth of free online advertising with Google AdWords to work with businesses to devise effective online marketing campaigns.

Professor Goldstein, who is on leave from L.B.S. while working as a research scientist for Yahoo in New York, asked that students, in the spirit of the course, reduce paper use to the minimum by substituting online tools for storing and exchanging information.

Students had to create and keep individual blogs, comment on the blog posts of their peers and contribute regularly to the class collaborative wiki. Through engagement with online media platforms — from being able to modify the software that runs them, to participating in online conversations — the aim was to teach students technical skills, as well as an understanding of the psychology behind interactions online.

There is little known for sure about what works, in terms of marketing strategies, on the Internet. For this reason the class at L.B.S. also emphasized the importance of empiricism in online marketing strategy.

“It’s about testing things, and not about ‘Mad Men’-style intuition,” Professor Goldstein said, referring to the popular U.S. television series about whiskey-soaked advertising executives in 1960s New York.

At Harvard Business School, Professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, associate professor of business administration, is offering a second-year elective course on “competing with social networks,” as part of that school’s M.B.A. program.

Professor Piskorski also teaches students to look past their own “Facebook bias” to understand the complexities of different social media platforms, and the people that use them.

“Very often our perception of social media, and what we can and can’t do using social media, is very much tinted by what we think our favorite person is doing — and our favorite person is usually ourselves,” he said in a telephone interview from Boston. “So, it is about getting students to understand that the empirical skills are absolutely necessary, because whatever they think is intuitively correct, is probably correct about themselves, but nobody else.”

Offered since 2008, the course is taught predominantly via case studies of online social networking and content-sharing Web sites like MySpace, YouTube, Friendster, LinkedIn, and Wikipedia. It also studies niche social networks like Meetup, which organizes offline meetings between people.

Professor Piskorski said company executives were usually invited to contribute to lectures.

As at Insead and London Business School, guest lecturers are crucial to the course. “I tell the students, the class is called ‘competing with social networks,’ so it better be the case that I practice what I preach: I help the students form networks as well,” he said. At least 12 visiting lecturers participated in the course last year, including the chief executive of the dating network eHarmony and executives from LinkedIn and MySpace, he added.

The high level of engagement of top digital media professionals with these courses has reciprocal benefits: The students get to learn from the skills and experience of the executives, while the companies get to make contact with potential future hires with the skills needed to exploit social media channels for commercial gain.

It is not only in digital media that social media know-how is valued. These are skills that are increasingly valued in many areas of business, including public relations and marketing, technology and software development and management consultancy — to say nothing of entrepreneurs’ using social media channels to promote their start-ups.

Bringing students and professionals together in this way is also closing the gap that exists between education and the commercial world.

“In general, higher education is becoming work-force-readiness-aware and much more skills-based with regards to students’ experience and exposure inside of the curriculum,” Anthony Salcito, vice president of worldwide education at Microsoft, said during a telephone interview from Seattle last month. “We are seeing institutions embrace much more competency-based skills development for students, and this includes understanding how to embrace social media technologies.”

Students entering university studies today have grown up with access to computers and the Internet and have years of experience in using online social networks to make connections and share information. Now that businesses are realizing the commercial potential of these social media networks, the universities need to teach their students how to turn their knowledge of these new media channels to profitable use, Mr. Salcito said.

“Just as we saw with digital — with things like creating Web sites or Web-based business — there is a need for immediate transformation in the educational environment,” to keep pace with these fast-emerging developments in the business world, he said.

Microsoft Education has multiple initiatives focused on making the best use of new technologies to transform education in ways that match the innovations in the commercial world.

Business is driving the innovative process for now, with education chasing to catch up. But Mr. Salcito says that pretty soon those roles will be reversed by a generation of students whose vocabulary has always included words like blog, wiki and widget.

“Soon, students who have grown up with these technologies will come to be the ones providing answers to new industries as they leave university,” he said.

About time Indian B-Schools introduced Social Marketing and Social Business Strategies into their courses too

Am willing to take up these courses for B Schools interested… 🙂

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Me on Building a Personal Brand

Click on the link to see it 🙂

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Tracking Twitter In Effort To Turn Tweets Into Sales

Twitter represents a gold mine of marketing possibilities, but the vast majority of firms haven’t figured out how to transform those 140-character tweets into sales.

One exception is mega-brand Dunkin’ Donuts, which has started to track dollars flowing from Twitter by tallying the number of people who click through from a “Win Free Coffee for a Year Offer” on Twitter. Users who enroll in the “DD Perks” program are entered into a company database. The company has a quantitative value for database members, although it will not disclose that number or the Twitter click-through rate.

Yet while Dunkin’ has become a dominant brand on Twitter with over 46,000 followers, most firms are in the early stages of puzzling out how best to monetize a website whose passionate users crank out an average of 50 million tweets each day.

Still, a growing number of companies are seeking out Twitter for marketing purposes: 35 percent or 173 of Fortune 500 companies have active Twitter accounts, according to a recent study about corporate Twitter usage in 2009 from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research. The study called company growth on Twitter “explosive.”

A relatively early adopter of Twitter, David “Dunkin’ Dave” Puner has been tweeting for the chain since October 2008. Puner tweets about deals on coffee, munchkins, and breakfast sandwiches, the company’s “create your own donut contest,” and also replies to dozens of requests and comments daily.

Puner notes that Dunkin’s irreverent brand personality lends itself to Twitter and looks to its thousands of followers as proof that the company’s time spent tweeting is worth something. Although Puner notes Dunkin’ is still “figuring out Twitter,” he also said: “It’s a great place to get that real-time feedback and to find out what consumers want from you as a brand.”

Still, the majority of companies are somewhat clueless about Twitter’s business impact. Corporate Twitter strategies are “all over the map” ranging from hyper-engaged companies skilled at building trust with followers down to firms that play it safe, sending out lackluster tidbits of information, said Emily Riley, analyst and research director at Forrester Research Inc.

“In truth, relatively few companies are doing any of this well,” said Riley in an email.

But companies like Staples Inc., which has a “Tweet team” of five staffers and has amassed more than 31,000 followers, are passionate about mastering the art of “microblogging.” The company started using the site late last year and tweets mainly about deals and customer service.

Even at a sophisticated company, figuring out the ROI of social media “is the million-dollar question,” said Michelle Ormes, Staples’ director of corporate branding. “Right now…we value the number of our followers and how engaged they are.”

Business-to-business firms are also placing increased importance on social media and Twitter. Forrester predicts that B-to-B firms will increase spending on social media from a total of $11 million in 2009 to $54 million in 2014.

A prime example is EMC Corp., which, with more than 3,777 followers, views Twitter as a valid channel for one-on-one customer conversations. And with 400-plus EMC employees with personal Twitter accounts monitoring mentions of the technology company, there’s plenty of opportunity for that back-and-forth. While the company has chatted on Twitter with potential customers, according to EMC’s director of digital strategy Len Devanna, the company doesn’t use the channel for sales.

“But I’d be lying if I said sales wasn’t on our radar,” said Devanna.

Small businesses have also found followers, although dubious proof of sales, on Twitter. Somerville, Massachusetts-based Kickasscupcakes owner Sara Ross has attracted more than 800 followers and tries to give her cupcake fans behind-the-scene glimpses of her business by posting videos. But, Ross thinks her Mini Cooper, which is decked out with her store’s branding, has gotten her the best free publicity.

Not all companies are convinced that tweeting is a necessity, even ones that believe in social media. Car-sharing firm Zipcar has some 30,000 fans on Facebook, but does not actively tweet, although company spokeswoman Nancy Scott says the company “listens” on Twitter. Zipcar’s inactive Twitter page has close to 1,000 followers.

Case Studies of how businesses are using Twitter

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