Friday, July 09, 2010

The Digital Sweet Spot

2009 was the year “Minority Report” finally came to life with augmented reality interaction – and you facing up to the reality that privacy is now as confidential as a fish bowl after Facebook made private information searchable.

2010 marks the birth of new devices that are creating more waves in content creation, redefining the usage of mobile phones.

Apple’s iPad has given dying newspapers a new lease of life. The explosion of smart phones and democratic data plans from telcos has converted people from watchers to participators. Location-based applications tell friends where the others are, and real-time status updates across social sharing services, such as Twitter and Facebook – all invite you to read and respond.

Instead of making predictions on the impact that new technologies and trends like Google TV, HTML5 and location-based advertising will have on marketing, it would be more apt to talk about how you can work digital advertising effectively for your client’s business.

With the exponential growth of online content and surge of marketers adopting digital as the lead for their campaigns, we are starting to see more interesting work in Singapore. As the market begins to mature, digital practitioners must put their money where their mouths are, and start delivering results for every cent the clients entrust.

Over the years, I’ve been able to put certain theories to test, and having worked with many brilliant minds, I’ve observed that a combination of factors may just help you nail that sweet spot for your brief and yield results beyond expectations.

Monetise Social Currency
Marketers are starting to mimic successful campaigns, by utilising various components of social media – from viral videos to micro-blogging, Facebook engagement to discussion forums and activation.

And of course, the million-dollar question – “Is there money to be made in social media?” I’d like to think so. The market is ready to separate the boys and men, amateurs and the pros.

If you believe in your idea, peg your remuneration to its result and impact. The digital medium is inherently accountable, and it’s not difficult to work out an attribution and valuation model.

No doubt, the mode of engagement puts pressure on the agency to sharpen the strategy, and gives clients glimpses of a social media heaven. If done well, you’ll have a new convert.

Preach responsible advertising and demand your payout.

Rally People Around a Cause
Human beings gravitate towards goodness. They want to be able to contribute for social, political and environmental causes. We have seen how certain initiatives have gathered the support of global citizens.

The secret to their success: authenticity, sincerity, honesty and keeping it real. These attributes win the hearts and minds of people. More often than not, you are able to move them into active participants.

A brand can stand for a cause under their corporate social responsibility efforts. Whilst the commercial returns are not immediately visible, you will see gains in brand affinity.

However, do be warned that there is a flipside. When you force-fit a cause for a brand in a one-time effort, people can smell dishonesty from a mile. The same impact of cause marketing can work against you.

Maneuver Channel Platforms
Just as many people have an online presence, web users have real friends, (yes they do!) passions and lives. However, this line between virtual interaction and real life connection is getting thinner.

There is now more reality in virtual reality than ever. Here lie opportunities for channel platform maneuvers, where we move people from online to on-ground to mobile and vice versa.

There must be a strong motivation or incentive to move bums off seats. Or a belief that people will connect like-minded individuals, who are passionate enough to do something. I much prefer the latter approach.

A community that is driven by passion creates a longer (maybe even permanent) bond with the activity, thereby making it a valuable asset to any brand.

The science is in the methodology of crowd sourcing. Appoint leaders to be poster boys, and recruit various tiers of members. Along the way, appoint leaders from the mass crowd and grow organically. Soon the multiplier effect will happen.

Content Decentralisation
Content is still king, but you don’t have to create all of it. Take the model of decentralisation and start building satellite content outside the original ecosystem.

Set a framework. Cut consumers loose, invite them to fill in the blanks, and let them remember the experience as their own.

One model we find working out well is an idea of content co-creation with brand ambassadors, from editors to social influencers. However, the accessibility to publishing tools has created many self-proclaimed social influencers.

Sadly, there many who talk amongst themselves, leaving not a single dent of impact. The balance of official and non-official voices is a delicate thing to handle. We must be very selective of who we engage.

Most brands that are brave enough to adopt this find their brand trust increasing year after year. The more you let go, the more you gain.

Lastly, there is no formula in hitting the pot of gold.

Sometimes, it’s about good old-fashioned understanding of human emotions. Sometimes, we have to go beyond our core disciplines to get the results. Sometimes, it requires us to do the minimum.

Deng Xiao Ping once said, "I don't care if it's a white cat or a black cat. It's a good cat so long as it catches mice.” Likewise, do whatever it takes to get the results.

Jeff Cheong is ECD and Head of Tribal DDB Singapore

Friday, July 02, 2010

Does branding have a future?

I remember about 10 years ago that many people in “the industry” predicted that branding, like several other aspects of business, would die at the hands of the internet.

This idea started when the internet represented a new way of choosing things to buy, where traditional media and retail channels would be overtaken by digital substitutes and people would return to buying products not brands.

The concept experienced a reincarnation of sorts in last few years.

Web 2.0 was going to replace a brand’s reputational promise with transparent user reviews. The Long Tail effect was going to allow niche offers to overtake famous “big hit” brands by allowing buyers to express their true preferences - buying the products they really want, unfettered by production, distribution and communications bottlenecks that have been the traditional battlegrounds for brands in the past.

Well it’s fair to say that brands have survived these pressures. But the practice of branding has been significantly impacted in the process – and not just as a result of the impact of the internet.

It’s also true that while advertising agencies have famously struggled to re-invent themselves – brand consultancies have not always been at the leading edge of innovation in their own practice.

So what are the factors driving change in branding? At FutureBrand we work with renowned futurologist Richard Watson to identify the key macro trends with the most widespread real impacts.

• Changing demographic shapes – tailoring products to the needs of aging populations and the expectations of “digital native” youth

• Global connectivity – the fact that while many people in emerging markets in particular may not have the money or access to brands, their ever increasing exposure to those brands in context of marketing and entertainment shapes their aspirations

• Technology –a range of categories are on the cusp of significant change from technologies in genetics, robotics, nanotechnology and the internet. These will have the effect of shifting their overall value propositions and evidentiary basis for benefits

• Sustainability – this is an issue that’s not going away. Relative to say Europe, much of mainstream Asia remains preoccupied with prosperity rather than sustainability. But consumer niches are growing, and progressive governments and corporates operating in more demanding international environments are starting to offer leadership on this issue

• Emerging economies and Asia – particularly post the global financial crisis, it’s fair to expect that economies and cultures in this part of the world emerge as producers and shapers of brands – not simply large masses of consumers to be exploited

Considering these trends and forces of change that put pressure on brands and the practice of branding, FutureBrand has been giving thought to what makes a ‘future brand’ – a brand that maximizes its long term potential to create business value.

1. It must strive to make people’s lives better.

2. It must do so based upon a future forward view of their category in which their brand, that of the company or organisation and their products and services are driving positive change.

3. Related to this, it must provide an emotional connection to those who are the brand’s greatest advocates or ambassadors, that sets a future brand apart from its more rational or ‘me too’ competitors.

4. And, finally – it must actively understand, manage and appropriately exploit all touch-points at which a consumer or stakeholder interacts with the brand as an organisation, a product or a service. All sensory stimuli are used to connect and differentiate so that the brand values, experience and consumer preference is reinforced and aligned to a brand’s vision.

These characteristics naturally have an impact on the practice of branding in a variety of ways. For example, managing and maximizing touchpoints now means designing great screen-based experiences. Offering compelling emotional connections with brand advocates requires the acceptance of a degree of freedom in customers’ participation with brands, rather than trying to stage “controlled” experiences. So brand management becomes a highly dynamic process of influential interactions with people – not being the logo nazi.

So yes, branding has a future, but its practice is not the same as its past. Brands remain critical assets that drive and deliver ‘value’. As we move into the 21st century, the challenge for marketers and practitioners is to understand how brands can evolve and facilitate growth for the benefit of investors, stakeholders, consumers, customers and employees.

Tim Riches is chief growth officer, Asia Pacific and chief executive officer, Singapore for FutureBrand.