Saturday, August 21, 2010

Look who's talking

Digital Activation and Social Media
One of my favourite client presentation moments occurred this year during a session where I was promoting the benefits of social media for business gain. After stating that digital was one of the battlegrounds with their competitors that they needed to own, the client casually remarked they already had a twitter and a facebook page. 'Great ... is it working? Are you engaging with consumers? Are you measuring the impact?' I replied, to which I received a few casual headshrugs and a paper aeroplane.

If you build it, they will not come
This illustrated one of the common misperceptions of digital activation. You can't just put up a website with a few social media channels and expect people to automatically find it. There has to be a breadcrumb trail that leads to a gingerbread house of rewards, minus the witch of course. Integral to the success of any social media channels then is a well-constructed launch strategy. Be it teasers, count-downs, microsites, dollars thrown into the street or free balloons ... generating buzz before the reveal is half the battle. But I'm jumping the gun ... before you even get here, you need to ask 'do I really need social media?'

Strategic Alignment
My Managing Director has a simple technique to test the solutions we develop in the creative studio. He responds to everything with a 'So what?'. Sounds horrible ... but it's amazingly effective. What's the reason for recommending social media to a client? Does it align with their business goals? Some reasons that may resonate with clients typically include:
• Crowdsourcing ideas (think Dell's IdeaStorm and Starbucks My Idea)
• Increased visibility with a younger crowd
• Improved market relevance (typically as part of a brand refresh)
• Consumer behavior analysis
• Promoted perception of business transparency
• Real-time customer service (think Zappos)
• Brand dialogue channels
• Location based monitoring
• And more ...

Social media by itself is not an answer. It is, however, a powerful compliment to your primary marketing and branding activities.

So your client agrees that they need to build a social media presence. Now comes the really hard part; even when people find your brand online ... the challenge is giving them a reason to stay. Unless you're a hacker and able to trap them with multiple pop-ups and fraudulent redirection tactics (generally not encouraged), brands need to provide consumer incentives to promote return visits and advocacy to others.

In the 2009 Razorfish Feed Report they conducted a study on the primary reasons consumers follow a brand online. The main results were:
• 43.5% exclusive deals or offers
• 23.5% current customers
• 22.7% interesting or entertaining content

Brands that are successfully leveraging social media for business gain like Starbucks and Dell have tapped into consumers incentives. The appeal of a location based service like FourSquare is that brands are able to reward loyal customers with special offers and an increased personal profile. I just recently had a colleague excitedly show me her new 'Crunked' badge with pride. I mean, who doesn't want to be the mayor of ... well, anywhere.

I love stats. So much I'm expecting an intervention from colleagues soon 'Quick! Hold him down! He's trying to measure our time spent on facebook during work hours! Get that graph off him!'. It was discussing monitoring of brand sentiment that resulted in the client presentation story I promised earlier:

'Has everyone seen the Superman movies? (a few positive nods). Well, do you remember when Louis Lane has been kidnapped and Superman flies up above the earth and listens to every conversation in the world for a single mention of her name? (more nods). Imagine we could do the same and listen in to every conversation that mentions your brand, see who is speaking, see what they're saying and even zoom down to talk to them. Well, we can. Here's how ...'

Someone then asked if flying was involved, but unfortunately I couldn't promise anything beyond a flying fox. Tight fitting costumes aside, the other reason I love metrics is because it's relatively easy to measure the short term impact of social media activities. You can assess whether you're increasing your follower count, flag popular and contagious content, assess shared/retweeted posts and count increases in consumer conversations.

More advanced tools also allow you to check not only your brand's online reputation but more real-time behavior:
• brand sentiment (are people talking about your brand positively and negatively)
• influencer identification (when these people speak, the crowd listens)
• content tagging and flagging (what are the most common keywords used in association with your brand)
• demographic information (age, gender, location, referral data, bounce rates, visit times and more are often available)

With so many free tools available, there's really no reason not be participating on even an intermediate level.

Time is not on your side
I've heard a few clients say 'Yeah, we will get to that, it's in next years activity list'. But the reality is that to stay market relevant you need to catch the wave and ride it, not surf in flat water behind it. Plus, that's typically where the sharks wait. The typical long term development of a brand is a debating point but I'm more and more convinced that brands need to update every 2-3 years. The outdated concept of building a 5-10 year lifespan is dead and buried. The market changes so quickly that to avoid regular brand evolution is to fall behind. Whilst a brand's core positioning may stay the same, successful companies like Nike and Apple have proven that it's best to outdate yourself before the competition catches up.

Digital brand experiences can create some of your most powerful brand advocates. If you're not playing in the space now, it's time to change.

Christian Teniswood

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Welcome To The Hotel California

Whilst stretched out on a beachchair at the Intercontinental in Bali I started thinking what created such an amazing experience (cocktail buzz aside). Starting with a great location overlooking a beautiful beach might be a bit obvious but as a business, what does a hotel resort need to deliver in order to create advocates and repeat customers?

I thought I can’t do better than write this whilst still immersed in the experience (a proud red tan in development) and I ended up distilling the experience down into four key values a hotel/resort needs to deliver for brand growth and consumer advocacy :

It doesn’t matter whether you promise unlimited alcohol and luxury backrubs (although I’m interested and willing to review your offer in person) … customer service has been and remains the key to service orientated success. You could do everything else right but if your staff go the extra mile with a genuine smile and respect for the consumer, people will recommend you and your brand reputation will grow. It also reminds me this is also a two way street. My friend is a consultant for the hospitality industry and she has a simple motto ‘Happy staff mean happy customers’*. We all recognize a plastic fantastic fake smile, so a great manager will make sure their team are relaxed and enjoying their time as well.

The Les Suites Taipei Da-an in Taiwan is a boutique hotel I stayed at that sticks in my mind because the staff and concierge service was exceptionally good. I remember the hotel room less than I remember the front desk recommending great places to eat, organizing taxis, booking me a haircut and providing tips where to shop (‘don’t go there, that’s for ignorant tourists … locals go here’). The staff were the primary brand touchpoint and when they’re this good, customers will spread the word.

The Mandarin Oriental in the Philippines also has this category nailed. I don’t know how the staff all remember my name with my infrequent visits, but being greeted like a friend immediately takes the edge off a long business flight over. A little ego pampering goes an amazingly long way to making you feel special and welcome. It’s essentially the rockstar effect … walking into a room and having everyone cheer you have arrived.

Touching the senses can be both a value and an activation channel. Lying on the beach perpetrating a tan (I won’t sing the rest) with blue waves crashing in front of me, it’s hard to imagine how to add further value around the experience without over or under delivering. The key is complimentary and authentic touches.

The pineapple cocktail delivered in a real pineapple gets the thumbs up (I’ll take another, thanks), the beach chairs all with fresh towels, the beautiful crafted menus with real wood covers and the soft background music that I can’t work out where it is coming from all made what is essentially a simple ritual much more pleasurable.

Disruption needs to be avoided at all costs. Earlier on a worker started chainsawing a tree in the middle of the quiet Sunday afternoon. From the look on some of the hotel residences faces, I thought someone might go a little texas chainsaw on him themselves. Keeping peace and serenity is what people pay for … so scheduling non essential repairs and cleaning during off-peak hours would be a smart business decision.

Authenticity falls into this category as well … tapping into positive country or city associations can make your brand stronger and distinctive, whilst remaining true to core values in the case of chains and franchises across markets. The Intercontinental in Bali has distinctively Balinese furniture, food, interiors and design touches across most of its rooms and restaurants. It still retains the business orientated professionalism that is associated with it in all markets however.

In Japan, I spent a night in a capsule hotel for similar reasons … it was authentically Japanese. Sure, I wouldn’t recommend staying there a week but one night feeling like an astronaut in an escape capsule (with a tiny tv screen showing gameshows on repeat) was a culturally unique and sensorial experience. Remember to give consumers a good brand story they can share with their peers and associates.

In unfamiliar environments, consumers want to feel safe and secure. Many business travelers travel alone and know that staying locked up rapunzel style in your room does tend to grind after a while, even with great room service cheeseburgers and 24 hour sports channels. Getting out and seeing more than your fancy bathroom becomes a necessity.

Most unfamiliar destinations do pose the need to be a little bit careful though, especially if that includes a tour of a few bars and clubs where you plan to unleash some dance moves on unsuspecting locals. In these instances, it’s much more assuring when the hotel concierge can organize a car to and from your destination, or have the driver drop you there and give you a number to call once you’ve run out of witty conversation at the bar … ‘Is your dad a baker?’. Oops, time to go.

It’s also nice to know that when you’ve been forgetful of putting valuables in the room safe, your credit card is still in the same place once you get back. Common sense suggests you don’t want to test that theory too often of course, as you’ll eventually find someone who takes a trip to Paris at your expense without inviting you along.

Security can also be delivered at online touchpoints. Secure websites and competent online booking features are a must. I particularly dislike being re-directed to a booking site rather than remaining within a hotel website that can show real-time availability, flexible and credit card secure booking and social media links to demonstrate transparency and open up communication. Delivering safety at all times is a difficult proposition but one that is worth the effort. Communicating a brand promise of safety, security and assurance and then delivering it are the moments that build long term trust with the brand.

I stayed in the JIA Hotel in Hong Kong recently and casually twittered about it ‘Nice Philippe Stark interiors at JIA Hotel in HK #hotel’ once I got back to Singapore. Within five minutes of posting, I got a direct response from JIA asking how my stay was and if they could improve anything for a return visit. I was actually surprised by the immediacy of their monitoring and looked over my shoulder to check I hadn’t been followed. Then I thought how good this was. On a public forum they individually addressed me and were able to demonstrate high level customer service even after my stay was over.

It made a fan out of me to know I was being given the chance to say good or bad things about their brand in a completely open and contagious environment. This type of transparency is what social media is all about. It was a great brand building exercise not only to me but to other passive watchers. I had just become a brand advocate without any active intention. The opportunity I felt they missed though was to offer an exclusive deal for participating in the conversation (eg a price reduction or value added service like inclusive of breakfast for a repeat customer is an easy to deliver incentive).

Summary S
Communicating and delivering these four values is integral to create a positive consumer experience that will promote great reviews and recommendations both online and off for a hotel or resort brand. From a brand strategy perspective, the main challenge is not promising these aspects … it’s ensuring they are delivered to consumers. This doesn’t have to be just at the front desk either, JIA’s use of social media (as mentioned above) demonstrates how the brand experience can continue even after check-out.

In this category, it’s not what you say, it’s what to do.

Christian Teniswood • Design Director • FutureBrand

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How's things?

Paul: 'Hey Christian, how's things?'

Christian: 'How's things? Its pitches and tenders and proposals and alcohol and more pitches and pitchers of beer and more tenders and tender points and massages and it's 3am and love this song and when can we see it and revenue streams and dreams of streams and resorts and trains, planes and taxis and cold grey airports and colourful creative executions and more concepts please and lets see it in blue and strategic alignment and graphs, charts, wheels and methodologies and processes and four step approaches and dancefloor moves and franchise models and art directing models and social media communities and updating statuses and best practices and wow that's inspiring and digital capabilities and buzz generation techniques and online traffic and offline waking up late and getting home late and this is my life.'

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Brand provocation, next generation, authenticity, collaboration

How do you contribute to, or provoke, new thinking and generate ideas in your office?
With every new client comes the potential or provocation for new ideas. Listen first to the customer/client, see what their issues are and how they give us a different or new perspective. This opens the door to new approaches, opportunities to challenge conventions, push boundaries and move into new territories. Unfortunately this can sound like a creative agency cliché … with safe and sometimes cookie cutter results despite the bold promises. The goal is to create thought provoking work. But how?
My simple philosophy is to make myself nervous. It’s the only way to truly assess whether the approach or creative output is moving towards something unique. When you feel uncomfortable, you’re generally treading in new territory (even if that means scraping your shoe afterwards). I push this approach on each creative project and encourage others to put themselves outside of their element, starting with a different discipline as a basis; be it scientific, artistic or strategic.

Which business or consumer-facing company (or brand) do you believe best demonstrates next generation thinking and why?
From within the agency realm, who can argue with the quality of R/GA’s digital and interactive solutions. They create brands that allow consumers to interact, contribute and shape their own experience … and represent the next generation of brand approach. In the consumer facing arena, it’s easy to put forward a brand like Apple … but I applaud them because they truly live innovation. It’s not a throw-away brand value in a chart, it’s a true brand culture that the company lives. Every organization should have the courage to outdate their own products … and it’s shown to make a lot of business sense too. Lastly, India’s Tata Motors Nano, the world’s cheapest automobile, has the potential to revolutionise the Indian economy. With variants including compressed air engines, and hybrid electric motors in development, interest is not only swelling in the local market but from European nations. It may portend a new era in inexpensive personal transportation, aligned with the global trend towards smaller cars.

What does authenticity mean to you?
Authenticity means having relevant substance and history. Here in Singapore, the local Thai restaurant down the road claims to be authentic. Is it as authentic as flying to Thailand and eating there? No, but taking the thai belly from the experience may be a preferred level of authenticity for some, whilst the risk factor and cultural immersion holds appeal for others. The experience can remain authentic as long as it encompasses unique cultural attributes and a sense of the original source.
And why is it important? Authenticity means something because it’s hard to create and impossible to emulate. We’ve seen with the Asian market entry of global luxury brands like Vuitton and Prada a shift from the slick westernized look to a more authentic Asian style. Familiar faces like Gong Li, Joan Chen combined with the cinematic style of local Directors Yang Fudong in the surrounds of Beijing and Shanghai means more to the local audience than the backdrops of New York or Madrid. Audiences know what authenticity is … they sense it inherently because they know it can’t be faked.

When and why does collaboration work?
Just putting a lot of people in a room together does not equal collaboration. There is always the danger of simply averaging out the results. Do you want a team of a hundred junior doctors operating on you? Or one doctor who has done the operation a hundred times? But in a creative environment, where inspiring the unexpected is core to success, collaboration is essential. Much like assembling a champion sports team, success occurs when complimentary talents are placed together. The classic advertising team of an art direction + copywriter worked for so long because they attacked every problem from at least two very different perspectives. On a personal level, I’ve been eternally thankful on late nights to be able to call in second opinions. Sometimes you get so involved in a project you lose sight of the details, especially when you’ve been staring at the screen for seven hours straight. There is nothing like asking a colleague over at 3am in the morning for a second check … and having him tell you ‘It all looks good, except you’ll want to remove ‘ButtHead’ from the client name area’.

You’ll owe him a beer after that. Collaboration works.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Brand Storytelling

Storytelling is an often overlooked and undervalued communication method in branding. Using a metaphorical journey to describe aspects such as brand personalities and values is a unique way to get a client to understand a proposed brand idea. Stories are also metaphors and very powerful ones. They allow us to talk to the subconscious mind in such a way that the conscious mind does not reject or censor an underlying message (Developing Your NLP skills : Andrew Bradbury. P96)

Remember this point: A story can be used to communicate an underlying message that will not be questioned like an opinion or statement. A case study can be presented as a story to substantiate other claims or recommendations. Minimising confusion and conflict whilst providing clarity, a story becomes a very powerful tool in creative presentations. Selling an emotional concept in an analytical way results in a conflicting communication model. I agree with David Ogilvy that clients require rational reasons to make emotional decisions. However, they need to experience the emotional connection you're selling to understand the consumer's state of mind. It must be remembered that consumers make emotional choices and decisions just as much as logical choices. More importantly, it is emotional experiences that are remembered.

Therefore conveying an emotional value or idea with emotional language is clearly a more effective tool in a creative presentation. This is where telling a relevant story becomes so effective. For example, if selling a positioning that revolves around the concept of magic, a story that tells of the wonder of a child experiencing something like flying a kite for the first time can be extremely compelling. A concept like determination brings to mind some of the amazing stories of training that professional atheletes go through. The important point is to tell a story that the client will be able to personally relate to and let them recall a similar experience. If you can't tell the story yourself, there may be a video you can present that sells the experience you want to convey. This is another sensory method of selling a concept at a visual, auditory and kinesthetic level.

The average memory space of a person ranges from four to seven items at best, best represented by numerical sequences like phone numbers which are broken into digestible chunks for better retention. Research has also shown that worldwide attention spans are shrinking and people are more effectively blocking out the constant bombardment of visual stimulus such as advertising. Having methodologies to enhance a brand's memorability and recall is essential for success. I recently became interested in the way we record information after watching a world memory challenge.

What was fascinating was that nearly all the competitors used the same method to memorise what appeared to be a staggering amount of information such as numbers and patterns. An explanation from one competitor stated that by linking long number sequences to people and places he was already familar with, then creating a story as he walked through his imagination from person to person and place to place enabled him to remember the entire numerical sequence. It was compelling proof of the ability of a story to ensure maximum recall once you leave a presentation.

The conclusion was that stories are both emotively powerful and memorable. A very simple example I found effective was asking someone to write as many animal names as possible straight onto paper, then comparing it to someone who I asked to imagine walking through a jungle and naming animals they saw. A person who is able to internally visualise finds it much easier to recall items. Taking a conceptual journey stimulates more of our senses and sparks more links to existing

In oversaturated global markets every advantage to improve communication and heighten recall is beneficial. Brand stories should be part of every presentation and brand toolkit. Knowing that the brain works best by linking stories along a journey, telling a brand 'story' is a powerful tool in selling creative concepts. It also ensures the client experiences an emotional connection that is closer to the consumer experience.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Geosotal Album EP Free Download

Like your trip hop / rock / metal with distorted beats, crushing guitars, loud soft dynamics and haunting vocals? If you haven't got a copy of the dark, atmospheric EP Album by Geosotal ... Schoolgirls + Demons ... it's available for free download (and use in all commercial projects) here:

How to download :