Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Be careful, we're watching you

Consumer profiling is always an interesting phase of any branding project. And with social media making consumer voices more transparent than ever before ... I'm starting many projects with RSS keyword alerts across news, twitter and blogs. Combined with several social media tools (compete, social mention, socialseek and whostalkin are just a few favourite starting places) it's a great way to begin getting a clearer brand picture from a customer perspective.

But why scour the dark corners of internet alleys? Well, like any moment in a dark alley, the difference is honesty. People tend to say what they really think in a public forums, untempered by a social surrounding or within earshot of small impressionable children. A focus group creates a different context that can, if not properly moderated, create diluted or steered responses. But you can't argue when a customer posts a comment on Twitter saying 'Your product not only made my problem worse, my shrieks of pain scared the neighbours. My ex-girlfriend finally got it off with baby oil. Length and girth extender ... never again!'. The damage to brand perception and potential customers is almost irreversible.

That said, there's so much potential for real-time monitoring and instant feedback. Having recently stayed at the JIA Hotel in Hong Kong, I'd tweeted a general message about the Philippe Starck association and within five minutes, a JIA representative had replied directly to me asking about the service and overall experience. I was both surprised by the immediacy of the response but appreciative that they appeared to be concerned about my stay (or that customers are promoting a positive public facing message). My stay was genuinely a good and recommended one ... but out of pure curiosity I would have liked to have seen a response to an unhappy client...the true test. It's still a good reminder that marketing divisions should always have brand alerts set up for these scenarios. The ability to put out spotfires quickly before they become rampant is truly a part of any PR and brand perception campaign and assists in promoting a consumer first attitude to the public.

Combining the real-time presence of online monitoring with consumer profiling also changes the areas of brand focus. I've been working at integrating product adoption potential, social/peer influence and consumer brand alignment into our methodology to compliment our other data. "More stats!" can occassionally overwhelm a definitive point (as Mark Twain said 'facts are stubborn, but statistics are pliable') but in the consumer realm, they're king. In conjunction with behavioral patterns and levels of influence, online consumer profiling should be a part of your every project.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stop yelling and selling. Start participating.

As I write this branding continues to change at a rate faster than the average cheetah can keep up with. Digital is the buzzword floating around my office at the moment, but I'm personally seeing this less as a complete direction change and more as the space in which brands now live and interact with consumers in. It's a natural progression versus a radical departure from most agencies core competencies.

Where real change is happening is communication. Branding has moved from yelling into a crowd and seeing who listens, to opening up the forum floor to anyone who wants to speak. For the uninitiated this can be quite intimidating. Transparency has taken on the true meaning of the word as regulation, within reason, is often perceived as a negative influence to the participation process.

But this is the change that every brand must embrace. Negativity is productive. Change is good. Opinions are wanted. As Microsoft's Mich Mathews stated, brands have moved into the 'Era of Customer Participation', a business space where brands must be able to organically adapt to an ever changing landscape. Successful brands must open direct channels to consumers and ask them 'Let us know how we can help you more, because this is your brand as much as ours'.

Social and rich interactive media solutions open up a new world of possibilities to both consulting and creative people. Speaking a differentiated message consistently at all touchpoints? The tradition. Providing a vehicle for consumers to shape, create and fulfill an untapped need? The change.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why be simple when complex will do?

A quick list of often forgotten tips that I like to remind myself of before presenting work to a client:


Entrance strategy
A client decides whether they like you in the first fifteen seconds you enter a room. Absolute fact. So, how much time have you spent on your introduction?

Overstated...but the reality is, a client will do business with someone they like. They need to connect with us as people as well as professionals. So build rapport. Don’t walk in, set up and start showing self absorbed slides. Ask questions about the business problem, show genuine interest and demonstrate expertise in similar scenarios.

Body Language
Are you prepared to deal with hostile body language? Do you know what to do when a client is unresponsive? Break their pattern. Have a strategy ready to deal with difficult clients. Oh and maintain eye contact. We like and gravitate towards people who are confident enough to look us in the eye when we speak.

There’s a unique phenomenon that we’ve all experienced ... Awkwardness dealing with someone whose name we have forgotten (or can’t remember). Make sure you get to know everyone’s name in the room. You make a more powerful impression when you can talk to someone directly using their name.

You're Selling What?
Are we selling a process? I hope not. That’s telling, not selling. Are we selling a solution? Everyone is selling a solution. Let’s make sure we’re attuned to the needs of the client and what will move them above and beyond our competitors.

Know Your Audience
Great speakers find out everything they can about their audience before presenting. Speak to the interests of your audience in a language they understand and engage them through relevant content and delivery style.

Psychologically speaking
Our capacity for information retention is quite limited. We’re lucky if we get four (at maximum) points retained in a client’s short term memory after a meeting. Have you worked out the primary point(s) you’re trying to get across in a presentation? So, what do plan to leave the client thinking after your presentation? ‘Geez, those guys get it. And they’ve clearly done this before with great results for other clients. I’m comfortable they’re the right group for us. And I liked the guy talking about Bruce Lee. Sharp.’

Use The Stage
Find two spots in a room from which to speak from. One is your main stage from which 90% of your info is delivered from. But when you need to deliver one of your four core points (eg ‘Hire us, we have brilliant designers’) you should move to the other spot. Say it, move back. The client will associate (and remember) those impact statements more than the 150+ slides you read out to them.

Don't Talk To A Slide
It's not talking to you

You Have Four Seconds
When a person has to read a powerpoint slide...you’ve failed. The average person looks at a powerpoint slide for around three to four seconds starting in the top left hand corner. They scan for an area of interest, settle for a second or two, then move on. A slab of text or complex diagram is not an area of interest. If it’s important ... You must interact with the client and verbalise (it’s even better if you can make them say it..double the retention power! Christian is brilliant Christian is a design god)

A Picture Says A Thousand Words
So we write a thousand and one? No. Use a picture. Move them.

Retention of concepts and ideas is improved when multiple senses are engaged. Maybe you could sing them a big idea? (then again, maybe not). Think about how to engage beyond the normal. Stay front of mind. Be unique.

There’s an artform to selling complex ideas in. If I knew someone who could tell you how to do it, I would ask them to explain. But I don’t know anyone. You’ll have to figure it out yourself I suppose. I’m sure it’s simple though.

Say Less Than Necessary
Robert Green wrote this describing the common habits of great leaders in history ‘Great leaders say less than necessary, not more. When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.’

Power. Through simplicity.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Branding needs to change. And fast.

Branding as most agencies currently deliver has failed to adapt to a changing consumer landscape. So what's next? With digital changing the face of business more rapidly than ever before, great brands of tomorrow will need to address the following:

Be First
First to market has a two-fold advantage. First to market means front of the consumer mind. Market leaders in a category are twice as hard to shift as challenger brands and every advantage goes to a market leader, Pepsi won't overtake Coke nor will Avis jump ahead of Hertz regardless of clever marketing.

Be Unique
As the often heard but rarely understood concepts of innovation, sustainability, partnership and flexibility are repeated across industries, the basic foundation of distinction is lost. As Stephen Geissbuler eloquently states 'artificially adopted notions of growth, global business and aggressive, forward-moving technology become meaningless and overused ... because it's everybody's strategy, mission and positioning'. In a world of brand inconsistencies, we have forgotten the art of emotional connection. The need to refocus on people and bonding helps to create the most powerful assets any brand has; brand advocates.

Digital Activation
For success in the coming decade, business needs to acknowledge that the message may stay the same ... but the medium is shifting dramatically. If your business and brand are not digital now, you're of a dying breed. Traditional print and campaign style approaches to marketing are losing relevance with today's consumers. It is the user that drives and shapes brands today as they look to align with brands that reflect their lifestyle. The equation is simple; go digital or die.

Brand Communities
Brand champions and brand advocates are terms we're all familiar with. However, the places where they are developed has changed. Online communities are deciding the fates of businesses through advocacy and recommendation. The hotel industry is a good example, the consumer reviews on Tripadvisor often determine the fate of a hotel regardless of their external marketing. It also checks whether you’re positioned correctly; if you’re really a business orientated hotel masquerading as a boutique, the consumer will very quickly let you know your short-comings or misconceptions. Those who cannot adjust quickly, fall even faster.

Touchpoint Analysis
The hotel example highlights an excellent point. Agencies must analysis and pinpoint appropriate brand touchpoints and place emphasise therein. Yesterday's approach of a single message thrown into the mass market in the hope it randomly resonates is no longer working in an environment that is dictated by the end user. By targeting specific markets and demographics, mediums like mobile technology, websites and online communities can directly hit consumers that are known to have an interest in a brand, product or service. Speaking directly to an interested consumer has replaced yelling into a crowd.

Brand Service (or Consumers First)
The traditional that will never die. A simple fact that no branding or advertising can cover is; unless you can deliver the quality and services you promote, long term success will remain elusive. The digital realm has elevated word-of-mouth to new heights and through blogs, communities and online reviews consumers/users now determine the success of brands. Make your consumers happy and leverage this by giving them avenues to share their positive experiences. Zappos is a famous example; by focusing their business efforts on relationship marketing and a loyalty business model, they have become the world’s largest online shoe retailer. Built upon a core value of ‘delivering wow through service’, Zappos have achieved record numbers of repeat business.

Brand People, Brand Touchpoints, Company Culture
It's easy to forget that every employee within a company is a brand touchpoint and you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Whether or not your people are the most consistent brand touchpoint or not is irrelevant, they are the most important. Face to face communication allows consumers to experience a brand on a human level and research shows a positive human interaction breeds word of mouth promotion more powerfully than any other medium. Great branding ultimately needs to inspire, not just make visible a business strategy. Emphasis on a company culture that resonates and can be articulated by employees thus becomes essential.

Brand Metrics
Handing over a strategic solution without being able to demonstrate a tangible result will change as digital makes KPI’s and ROI’s measurable in real-time. It can also work in an evolutionary or organic way, with strategic and creative executions able to be adjusted and tailored post-launch by recording consumer feedback, keyword spikes, online reviews and other forms of interaction.


The Shift We Need To Make
Touchpoint analysis, company culture, consumer focus and digital activation are the areas that most agencies are struggling to take advantage of but understandably so. Whilst younger businesses have an appreciation of these areas, older and more established clients still struggle to recognise their potential .. and agencies have yet to develop case studies showing tangible benefits. Proving that these areas require the most attention whilst providing the best return on investment will determine an agency's own relevance in a changing marketplace.