Monday, February 27, 2012

From Impressions to Expressions: Why Coke is a SoMe Superstar

Can't make it to see Brands Undercover, my ERE presentation in San Diego on March 28? Then I guess you'll miss hearing about how Coca-Cola is the #1 brand in the world.

And, in honor of my favorite award show day,  I am also going to bestow Coke with Brandemix's very own SoMe Superstar award.

Here's why:

1. In addition to tracking consumer impressions, they are increasingly tracking Consumer Expressions. Defined by Joe Tripodi, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer of the Coca-Cola Company, it means "any level of engagement with our brand content by a consumer or constituent. It could be a comment, a 'like,' uploading a photo or video or passing content onto their networks." While consumer impressions have long been the metric of choice for measuring SoMe ROI, they are passive, unlike consumer expressions which track active involvement with a brand.

2. They  have a webpage with their Online Social Media Principles which include The Five Core Values of the Company in the Online Social Media Community: Transparency, Protection, Respect, Responsibility and Utilization.  

3. Their Super Bowl 2012 ad was so successful at driving traffic that it actually crashed their Facebook server.

4. They have embraced the communication strategy of keeping  "Liquid and Linked," defined as curating work that is so emotionally compelling, authentic and culturally relevant that it can flow through any medium.

It must be working. Coke estimates that of the 146 million views of content related to Coca-Cola on YouTube, only 26 million views were of content that they themselves created. Nice to have 120 million brand ambassadors on your team! Which brings us to:

5. They have relinquished control. When Coke's Facebook Page was targeted by an activist group whose members posted negative messages, it was the Facebook fans who rallied and responded with messages of support for the company.

As Coke gets ready to celebrate their 125 anniversary, they are a shining example of getting old both gracefully and greatly.

Congratulations to Coke on being Brandemix's SoMe Superstar! Might we humbly offer one bit of advice? It might be time to freshen up your careers site to keep it as great as your brand. We know someone who can help.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Social Media PR Disasters: #McDStories

This PR crisis may have come and gone within a few hours, but it’s still important. Why? Because it happened to McDonald’s, the sixth most valuable brand in the world. The story demonstrates that no one, not even a global restaurant giant, can control conversations on the internet.

The Brand
·      14 million Facebook likes
·      294,000 Twitter followers
·      3.4 million YouTube views

The Incident
McDonald’s had been running an effective Twitter series called #MeetTheFarmers, where actual suppliers talked about their pride in their work and loyalty to the Golden Arches. These were “promoted tweets,” paid by McDonald’s to appear on the Twitter homepage. One tweet, quoting a farmer, included a new hashtag: “ ‘When u make something w/pride, people can taste it,’ - McD potato supplier #McDStories.” That hashtag also appeared via paid promotion on the Twitter homepage. But the company never defined what #McDStories was suppose to mean. Enter McDonald’s critics – and apparently there are a lot of them.

The Problem
People quickly began recounting their bad experiences with McDonald’s and tagging it with #McDStories. The restaurant’s own content was buried tweets referring to food poisoning, vomiting, and weight gain. “Fingernail in my Big Mac once,” read one tweet. “Never ate there again and became a vegetarian,” read another. “These #McDStories never get old, kinda like a box of McDonald’s 10 piece Chicken McNuggets left out in the sun for a week,” read a third.

The Response
McDonald’s pulled the promoted tweet within two hours. Social Media Director Rick Wion released a statement that included, “With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned. The ability to change midstream helped this small blip from becoming something larger.” Wion pointed out that there were around 1,600 negative tweets about McDonald’s that day, out of almost 73,000 total mentions, putting the “disaster” in some perspective.

The Result
Though the crisis only lasted for a few hours, media outlets from the Los Angeles Times to London’s Daily Mail, jumped on the story of such a high-profile PR failure. I find it interesting that McDonald’s #MeetTheFarmers hashtag was untouched in all the madness. A few days later, McDonald’s launched another promoted hashtag, #LittleThings, apparently unaware that it was already being used by DoubleTree Hotels.

The Takeaway
Sure, you’re no McDonald’s. Still – how can you avoid a similar PR disaster?

- Focus on Your Fans
McDonald’s promoted #McDStories to the entire internet, inviting anyone who visited the Twitter homepage to post their thoughts. While I admire this, there’s no reason the company couldn’t have simply used the hashtag in tweets to its almost 300,000 followers. That audience would have been more likely to share positive stories.

- Manage the Message
McDonald’s second mistake was introducing the #McDStories hashtag without any explanation, and leaving the meaning vague. I bet just about everyone in the world has had an experience with the restaurant, and some of them are bound to be bad. On the other hand, #MeetTheFarmers is very clearly defined, even to the point that it doesn’t really invite people to use it. How many people know the McDonald’s farmers?

- Know When to Fold ‘Em
McDonald’s could have tried to steer the conversation, allowing the hashtag to continue for hours or even days. Social Media Director Wion saw that, while #MeetTheFarmers was getting the company’s message across, McDonald’s was paying for people to publicly criticize its brand. And there was no dignified way to explain what #McDStories was intended to mean. Rather than fight a high-profile, losing battle, Wion made the right call and chose to end the campaign.

While this crisis is over, it goes to show that social media PR disasters can happen anywhere, at anytime, for any reason. Whose hashtag will be next?

For the latest on social media, online recruiting, mobile marketing, and other branding trends, please like Brandemix on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and join our LinkedIn group, Your Digital Brand.

Monday, February 13, 2012

What's Foursquare Really For?

The best social sites have clearly stated goals. Facebook is for connecting with friends. Twitter is for live updates. LinkedIn is for business networking.

So what is Foursquare? The smartphone app allows you to "check in" to a location, with the option of adding a comment and/or sharing the update on Facebook and Twitter. You can leave a "tip" at your location, so other users will see "Be sure to try the nachos!" when they check in at the same restaurant. 

You get points and badges for various "achievements," whether it's visiting five different Italian restaurants or traveling to different states. You can compete with your friends for the most achievements. Whoever checks in the most at a location, whether it's a park or a store or the Rose Bowl, becomes the "Mayor," with their photo on the location's main page.

But what's it all for? The points have no value. You don't need a third party to announce your location on Facebook and Twitter. The tips aren't moderated, leading to weird or unhelpful comments, and old tips can become outdated. When you check in at a museum or gallery, for example, you'll see many posts about exhibits that are long gone. 

One of the best uses for the service was for businesses to offer discounts to anyone who checked, or to the Mayor. Dozens of Houlihan's franchises give a free order of fries for every check-in, while the current Mayor receives 10% off all food items. This strategy could lead to consumers actually competing over who visits an establishment the most -- a dream of any store owner. But few companies have followed Houlihan's lead.

Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley recently spoke to VentureBeat about the service's "identity crisis." He said Foursquare is "most interested in taking the data from check-ins to model what’s happening in the real world, and help people find new things." He pointed to Radar, an app now available on phones running iOS5, which alerts you when your friends are nearby or when you're near a venue you've told Foursquare you want to visit.

I'll be the first to say that Facebook and Twitter can't match that. But just a few weeks later, Foursquare also announced that it was adding menus to 250,000 restaurant listings. Even Yelp and Urbanspoon don't offer that feature. But how is it social? How do recommendations and menus align with points, badges, and tips? How will any of these lead to more businesses offering discounts to attract new customers?

It seems that Foursquare has a lot of good ideas but isn't sure which direction take. If Zagat, now owned by Google, adds menus to its app, it could quickly overtake Foursquare's new feature. Facebook's "Add a location to this post" option now threatens Foursquare on another flank. And I travel all over New York City and hardly ever see a Foursquare sticker on a store window or the logo on the menu.

I hope Crowley can find a clear path for Foursquare. After all, it's a great concept. But its time is running out.

Monday, February 6, 2012

What Is Brand Research? (And Why Should I Do It?)

So you’ve read my post “Four Signs You’re Ready to Rebrand” and answered “yes” to one or more of the questions. Time to design a new logo, right?

Wrong. The first step in the process, and the most important, is conducting brand research.  

What Is Brand Research (And Why Should You Do It?)
Before you can embark on the exciting and sometimes painful process of re-branding, you need to go beyond theory and acquire actionable knowledge- game-changing insights that can steal market share and drive sustainable business results. That requires brand research. 

It's safe to assume that in your personal or professional life, you don't make important decisions without doing  due diligence, so why should your brand deserve anything less?

Don't drink your own Kool-Aid. Don't rely on a one-rat lab study. Put together a solid plan incorporating some of these tried and true techniques:

1. Qualitative Research (aka "Qual")
Bring in a small sampling of the “right” types of people and do a focus group, or in-depth interview, online or as a telephone campaign. The questions are open-ended and the answers are subjective. A trained moderator (like me) will probe for deeper perceptions, opinions, and feelings about your topic. Emotional drivers, not rational ones, are what we're zeroing in on since branding is all about creating emotional connections. We recommend 360 branding that involves both external (consumer) and internal (employee) elements, so you’ll want groups of consumers, vendors, employees, and senior leadership in the mix.

2. Quantitative Research (aka "Quant")
This is most effective when used to validate the findings of your qualitative study. It’s much more objective because well-crafted questions deliver unbiased answers. You can conduct some quantitative research surveys through online tools like SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang. But the trick is getting the right analysis from the data. Make sure that you get a good sample pool by surveying across geography, age, incomes, and skill sets (for employee research).

3. Ideation Workshops
These are useful in creating corporate mission and purpose statements, launching new products or product extensions, or simply taking research findings to the next stage of development. It provides a structured forum for collective brainstorming (where there are no bad ideas!) and can be augmented with trend-panels and outside thought-leaders. Invite 10-20 of your closest multidisciplinary stakeholders for an off-site retreat and let the brand games begin. 

Don't Try This Yourself
I recommend bringing in an outside party to conduct any type of research. For qualitative, it helps to have an outsider who isn’t afraid of the truth, and who can turn negative discussions into positive opportunities without feeling personally attacked. For quantitative, it helps reassure both internal and external participants that the results are anonymous. Conducting the research off-site also helps persuade subjects to be completely honest instead of just reciting the party line.

Evaluating It All
Since it's more art than science, analysis is where real branding experts really shine. (There are three sides to every story.) Agencies like Brandemix use the latest tools and technology to analyze the data to create unique messaging and marketing plans that resonate with fragmented groups. It takes experience, insight, and creativity to turn research into tangible business results.

The first goal is to simply get to truth. How do people really feel about your brand?

The next goal is align the findings with your company’s mission, vision, and values. If it’s an employer brand, you want to align it with your consumer brand.

The third goal is to find your niche, your “white space,” where you can deliver something that no one else can. Again, this applies to both internal and external branding.

Another goal is to look at your “As-Is,” your current situation, and to find what opportunities are available to you. Also, what can you learn from your “wannabe’s”? If you “wannabe” like Starbucks, in what ways can you emulate their successes?

In Conclusion
Brand research professionals have more tools available now than ever before. There is no best way to craft the perfect research plan. It's through careful consideration of objectives, timeline, and budget that a sensible plan emerges. The answers can be painful, and every answer can lead to two more questions, but every question can lead to new opportunities to capture market share in ways never before considered. 

That's why we do it! Let us do it for you.