Parody: effective and fun brand communications

Here is a recent example of attention grabbing and fun communication for a brand that challenges the generally accepted idea that digital and connected is a better way to do things. The sequence works because it is a caricature of our collective behaviors and consensus about how great Apple's ads are. Of course it could backfire, but that would require a serious competitor to IKEA with great agility and a world-class cross-channel commercial organization able to show the audience how a smart catalog with all the right tools could beat its more traditional competitors. Given that such a player only exists in the future and has a name starting with I and ending with A, today's IKEA can safely play this marcoms game.
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About customer service

As Internet technologies become more pervasive in business a number of things are happening that are not unlike what many of us saw in the early days of use of IT in companies: after an enthusiastic early adoption that also happens to be a very chaotic phase, businesses become more mature and systematic in their approach, so operational aspects become critical aspects of the experience customers have of the company's products and services. However, with social media giving customers a much stronger voice, there is one specific aspect of operations that is of strategic importance: customer service, both in the traditional sense and in the form of self-service / self-care functions available online. There are at least three important guidelines every executive should keep in mind when deciding about marketing, sales and customer service.
1. Consistently good customer service comes through systems, not just smiles. 
2. Extraordinary customer service comes through smiles, not just systems.
3. You can’t give good customer service if you don’t hire appropriate employees.
To get another more quantified perspective on the importance of customer service, we recommend reading a recent publication by McKinsey&Co titled "Why companies should care about e-care".



Social media for brands is not a silo business

Over the past couple of years scores of marketing professionals have been faced with a regrettable habit that many companies and brands have developed: a desire to be present in social media with lack of strategy that tends to be replaced by a whole discussion about tools and who will "own" them internally.
The first huge fallacy is to engage in social media thinking that it's only a channel to communicate or sell to an audience that is often thought of as "captive". There is no such thing as a captive audience these days, firstly because people are free to allocate their attention where they want consciously or not, secondly because attention is scarce and thirdly because the platforms used by people are customising the content they show to them. As a result, no brand can think about an audience as being "captive".
A second big fallacy consists of believing that the audience will stay very disciplined and only use the content a brand provides for the purposes initially intended by the brand. That is not what experience teaches as people will use any point of presence of a brand to talk about any topic that they feel in important to them from rants about the service to enquiries about job offers or activism in favour of a cause like the environment or labor conditions with subcontractors (as the fashion industry is painfully learning). So no brand can consider its presence in social media as being just for one purpose and under the authority of just one silo within its walls. By the way, the current technological environment makes those very walls porous and therefore what happens inside ends up showing outside, often in a way that is neither pretty nor in line with the company's desires.
Last, but certainly not least, is the trend that has senior decision makers in many companies completely oblivious to the fact that heated discussions about tools and platforms will never replace rigorous thinking and decisions about strategy. A tool is a tool and has to serve a business purpose; the tool is not a master.
Here is an excellent article on Forbes about how social media will not fix a broken customer service. Very good food for thought for senior execs who need to learn more about the unique ability of the Internet and its technologies to break silos and compel all functions within a company to collaborate and converge to serve customers across all facets of the business on all customer touchpoints.


POEM and the tweeting bra

Over the past decade we've seen momentous changes in the media landscape with the emergence of the (social) media of the masses that have become increasingly intertwined with traditional mass media although the latter have had to deal with convergence from their old platforms to the Internet. As a result, many have claimed that brands have themselves become media, that they now control the channel and are supposed to produce and distribute content associated to the brand so as to orchestrate new forms of marcoms. While this is true to a certain extent, brands face real challenges and complexity in organizing their communication and in using the various channels that are available to spread its messages, interact with specific and increasingly fragmented audiences and acquire new customers. Principal challenges are as follows:

  1. the limited ability to fully grasp the importance and nature of new forms of (social) media in order to be able to put them to use in a consistent manner
  2. a relative lack of creative thinking in putting together structured campaigns that leverage all types of relevant media, whether traditional or social
  3. a profound lack of skills, tools and processes required to produce and distribute relevant good quality content to specific audiences
  4. often there is a disturbing disconnect between the marcoms initiatives and the business strategy, the business model and the fundamental business assumptions of the brand
  5. assuming all challenges above are addressed properly, there remains the issue of putting together and actually assessing systematically proper indicators of performance measured by one or more analytics platforms. In this area there is often too much focus on the tools and too little on the skills of the analysts, on the methods of analysis and on the focus that has to remain very close to the things that matter in a given business or industry
Leading consulting firms in the digital space have produced impressive output when it comes to characterizing types of content and kinds of channels that can be used by a brand. Among those there is the below overview of content, channels and formats by the Altimeter Group and the social media brandsphere by Brian Solis.

Working on a project involving the assessment of social media initiatives and contributions to putting together a marcoms strategy for a new business, we developed a simplified framework for structuring a brand's approach of paid, owned and earned media. This framework was partly inspired by an analysis of owned, paid and earned media done by Forrester which can be found at this link. The BusinessQuests framework is aimed at:
  1. defining the three kinds of media in a simple and unambiguous way
  2. identifying their primary purpose and possible unintended effects
  3. outline the relationships between the three types of media as an effort to contribute to dispelling some myths, e.g. that digital and social marcoms can be done without any significant financial investment or that an agency can orchestrate a viral campaign out of thin air
Our framework is as follows:
BusinessQuests' framework for paid, owned and earned media

While earned media is highly desirable it is also elusive and difficult to generate "artificially" because it takes something special in the content or in the nature of a given initiative to convince channels that have an established relationship with a given audience to relay a brand's content. Many experts give the example of how Apple has been consistently able to get substantial free coverage in the media for new versions of its iconic smartphone, however they fail to show the ties between the excellent work done in the past to build the brand through expensive campaigns in the (paid) media and they also omit the fact that Apple is able to attract attention in great part because of its ability to preserve secrecy and control the flows if information within the company and between the company and outsiders. So it would be really hard for most brands to aspire to such levels of achievement when it comes to earned media without first investing in various aspects of their business, paid media being the least critical or impacting. A better example might be provided by a campaign called "Tweeting Bra", which was run by Nestlé in Greece in October 2013, i.e. during the breast cancer awareness month. That campaign, which was put together by OgilvyOne Athens combined magnificently traditional paid media in the form of TV ads, star power in the form of a lady celebrity journalist, social media both as part of the initiative to raise women's awareness about good practices to prevent and cure breast cancer and as a medium for viral transmission of the info of the first "tweeting bra" ever. Here's the ad that aired on Greek TV to drive traffic to the microsite:

The initiative achieved its primary goal which was to generate traffic for a microsite dedicated to the issue of breast cancer, which was released by Nestlé as part of the campaign that was associated to Nestlé's Fitness line, whose primary target is the same as the audience of the initiative, i.e. women caring about their health and well-being. But more remarkably, the campaign also achieved significant exposure in unpaid media, i.e. earned media often in remote countries thus giving Nestlé's initiative an impact well beyond what the company initially aimed for.


E-commerce in China: a whole different world

Researching on critical factors of success in e-commerce targeting the world's most dynamic economies and some findings are just amazing. Of course the context is profoundly different from what we have in Europe, but consumer preferences may be even more different and perhaps counter-intuitive in certain cases, e.g. sites designs that would feel crowded and too "loud" in many European markets appear to be just about what Chinese consumers like in many product categories. Really fascinating read, which also makes it very clear that China is as much a big commercial opportunity as it is a riddle for European companies.

Here's a short sequence from a show on CNN in which the boss of leading player Yihaodian (backed by WalMart who have been smart enough to not interfere with the way the business is managed locally). He claims that one of their approaches is to list the top 5 things foreign players are doing when entering China and do the exact opposite (100% different as he says). Better watch:


Market share and trends for top e-commerce platforms

E-commerce has been a very hot area for many years and we were lucky to be involved in different roles in e-commerce businesses. After the disappointment of the early years of our century, click-and-mortar visions have morphed into cross-channel and then omni-channel approaches focusing a lot on delivering a consistent experience to consumers across touchpoints throughout a wide variety of possible customer journeys. What is the market share of each of the top e-commerce platforms in different segments of e-commerce sizes? What are the trends? Which look like good entry-level options with potential to scale? Some answers in a summary of a bit of research in this post.