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Posts Tagged ‘brand community’

Marketing via word-of-mouth, social networks and brand communities is not new.  Effectively leveraging social media technologies both in support of these marketing initiatives and as part of an ongoing, two-way customer-brand dialogue, however, has emerged as a burning issue on marketers’ minds. 

Social media technologies, themselves, certainly have their own learning curve, but the greater learning curve for marketers is contending with the fundamental power shift in the customer-brand relationship that social media technologies are enabling.  Thus, recognizing and responding to the new reality that individual customers and brand communities increasingly define (and have part ownership over) brands requires a fundamental shift in our approach to bringing products and services to market.

IBM Press

Source: IBM Press

IBM executive Sandy Carter is a forward thinker on this issue whose experiences and industry dialogue eventually led her to realize that marketers need a new set of tools if they are going to better contend with this power shift.  Her new book, The New Language of Marketing 2.O:  How to Use ANGELS to  Energize Your Market, delivers just such a ‘tool box’ for marketers — presenting a normative framework, together with numerous case examples from companies in a variety of B2B and B2C industries, to help marketers think through these challenges inside their own businesses.

Few are as well-equipped to tackle such a subject as Carter, who has had an impressive career in the enterprise software arena and who currently is IBM’s Vice President, SOA and WebSphere Marketing, Strategy and Channels.  In this role, she is responsible for IBM’s cross-company, worldwide SOA initiatives and is in charge of one of IBM’s premier brands, IBM WebSphere, which under her leadership has shown strong growth.  She also led her global marketing organization to garner 14 industry marketing awards in 2007.

What is Marketing 2.0, and what are Carter’s thoughts on how marketers can gain leverage in the dizzying world of social-media technologies to energize their marketing programs?

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Today we are beginning a new ‘semi-frequent’ feature on the Propelling Brands blog.  In addition to the regular features and ‘who’s propelling’ profiles of individuals and companies, we will periodically feature Q&As with individuals that are true forward thinkers on brands, marketing, innovation and technology.

  

Wisconsin School of Business

Source: Wisconsin School of Business

Professor Aric Rindfleisch is just such a forward thinker and marketing researcher, who works to fuse insights from the front lines of business and marketing with cutting-edge academic research.  In addition to his extensive academic background, he has worked for both ad agency J. Walter Thompson in Japan and marketing research firm Millward Brown.  Rindfleisch is currently the Associate Dean for Research & PhD Programs and a Professor of Marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He teaches graduate-level courses for the Wisconsin School of Business on new product development and marketing strategy; his academic research focuses on understanding inter-organizational relationships, consumption values, and new product development; and he is developing a new blog for the school, titled WisconsInnovation which seeks to bring together the ‘co-created’ insights of both faculty and students on innovation in business.

Rindfleisch has recently authored a groundbreaking paper, titled “Customer Co-creation:  A Typology and Research Agenda,” which we are fortunate to be able to share on this blog.  His co-author is Matthew S. O’Hern, a lecturer and doctoral student in marketing at Wisconsin.  The paper is slated to be published in an upcoming volume of the academic journal Review of Marketing Research.  And it is the focus of our Q&A here.

So what does co-creation really mean?  What is the impact of co-creation research on businesses, and how can marketers embrace co-creation as a strategy for improving the customer-brand relationship?

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Over the past few months I’ve checked in with a number of current and past colleagues and acquaintances who work at a variety of marketing services agencies — PR, ad agencies, social-media firms, brand consultancies, etc.  In addition to the usual pleasantries, our discussions could not help but touch on the state of the industry.  I’ve also seen and commented on a growing critical mass of news articles and blog posts on the future of advertising and PR  firms.

iStockphoto

Source: iStockphoto

What has been interesting about all of this dialogue, both online and off, is one consistent theme:  The business environment for ‘traditional’ agencies is changing … radically … and overnight. 

“I hear death is imminent for your business model, in fact I’ve heard the industry itself might be beyond repair,” commented Kyle Flaherty, a former PR agency professional and current tech-industry marketing director (now on the ‘client side’), in a December post on his Engage in PR blog.

What is causing this ‘plague’ of Biblical proportions throughout the agency world, and how can agencies overcome this situation by preparing for the next-generation of client expectations?

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I wrote in a recent piece on this blog, titled “Marketing Personalization 2.0,” about how companies are increasingly applying techniques from mass customization, using ideas such as personas and embracing what Patricia Seybold refers to as ‘customer scenarios’ to improve personalization of marketing efforts.  I also cited a range of technologies that can manage execution of this type of marketing.

Yet, even as this evolution represents an advancement over Marketing Personalization 1.0 (i.e., demographic and lifestyle channel targeting), there is much to be desired.  We are still at a point as marketers where we are guessing at personalization.  It is still possible to make costly mistakes, particularly if we misjudge customer persona or the channels for interacting with a given persona.

Adam Needles, Propelling Brands (original)

Source: Adam Needles, Propelling Brands (original)

“If you think backward from the audience you’re trying to reach and the channels and methods you’ve used to try to reach them, it all argues for taking a much more integrated approach to the work of marketing and communications,” argues Jon Iwata, SVP of Marketing and Communications for IBM, quoted in a recent piece by Paul Dunay on the MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog.

Fortunately, waiting in the wings is a new wave of technologies that promise to rapidly leapfrog the current state and to take us to what I believe is a very tenable basis for structuring and ‘propelling’ forward to Marketing Personalization 3.0 (see diagram).  These technologies, which include semantic analysis and social graphs, offer the potential not only to get closer to customers than ever before, but they also approach enabling what I believe is true ‘co-creation‘ of the marketing experience.

What do I mean by this?  Customers, who increasingly have power and leverage over brand-companies, will not only specify what they want but will also shape the boundaries and expectations of their communication with, recommendations regarding and the ultimate delivery of products and services from vendors. 

The entire experience will become a partnership, but why is this important?

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Over the last month or two, I’ve had numerous conversations with marketers in traditional (i.e., non-technology) industries about their Web-based and social-media strategies.  In fact, I talked about the challenges of so-called ‘buzz campaigns’ and Web micro sites in a recent blog post on Internet marketing sustainability.  Let me sum up the challenge that has surfaced in all of those conversations:  Many marketing leaders are excited about new marketing communication channels; however, they are approaching these new mediums with the same advertising/one-way-communication mindset that seems to pervade too much of the marketing communication world.

That’s why I was impressed with a very engaging Opinion-page piece by Silicon Valley marketing executive Tom Hayes and ABC News “Silicon Insider” columnist Michael S. Malone, titled “Marketing in the World of the Web,” in The Wall Street Journal this past Saturday.  Hayes and Malone argue that marketing participation on the modern Web and in social media platforms requires a new marketing mindset.  “A very different set of tools, concepts and practices is needed,” noted the two.  “Call it Marketing 3.0.”

What do they mean by this?

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I was listening to a presentation by marketing leaders at a major consumer packaged goods (CPG) company this past week, and it made me think about the issue of the sustainability of our marketing campaigns and investments online.  One of these marketers was talking about how her team, as part of a major brand marketing initiative, had launched a Web micro site.  The site was well-produced, but it was little more than an online brochure (with some value-added content, to be fair).  It was not bad, but my immediate thought was about the half life of such a site.  Sure it would help drive traffic and subsequent exposure and attention for a period of time, but it was static, with nothing special to keep people coming back once they had gotten tired of it.  It wasn’t serving as an ongoing catalyst for the customer relationship and for longer-term brand community.

I had a similar experience listening to another presentation by marketers at a different CPG about a month ago.  They were talking about how a key piece of a new product launch was a ‘buzz campaign.’  It made me wince, but — yes — they were talking about paying people to go online and create buzz for their new product.  The ethics of such a campaign aside, it also made me think about sustainability.  As long as these ‘buzz agents’ were being paid to talk about the product, there would undoubtedly be dialogue in chat rooms and on blogs, but once the campaign was over, how long would this continue, and what would be the impact on the brand’s reputation if people found out about the paid buzz agents?

Dr. Justine Foo, a scientist and marketing researcher, perhaps said it best in a post, titled “New metrics for sustainable marketing,” on her Brains on Fire blog earlier this year:  “Our current market is driven by short-term forces: get next quarter’s numbers up, what it will cost me now, # of mass impressions, etc. As a result, we create campaigns, not movements … .”

Where is the sustainability in all of this?

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I was doing some research over the past week related to best practices for shaping customer-brand experience, and it made me think more about the state of marketing personalization.  The whole point of marketing is to build a relationship between a customer and a brand through which both the customer and the company behind that brand derive benefit.  It is a direct, one-on-one and mutual commercial exchange; for the customer, the brand is experienced at a very personal level.  In fact, we may aggregate data about brand perceptions for larger populations, but the basic unit of measuring brand experience remains something that occurs at the individual level.

That’s why “[e]xperiences need to be designed for individuals,” advocates Bruce Temkin, Forrester Research‘s principal analyst for customer experience in his blog-published book, The 6 Laws of Customer Experience.  “While it may not be possible to individualize every interaction, focusing on narrow segments (like Personas) is critical.”

Yet so much of marketing practice and technology infrastructure seems to focus on de-personalizing and scaling marketing communication to as large of an un-segmented population as possible – a trend decried by marketing pundit Seth Godin.  We extract the individual and disregard his/her personal experience.  We engage in shotgun marketing.  Why is that?

I’m not saying that as a marketer we shouldn’t attempt to reach a scale audience.  Quite the opposite, we should absolutely shoot for scale, but I’d argue it’s how we build that scale that is critical.  We need to do it one customer at time … which is the point of personalization.

How can we make both scale and personalization co-exist as hallmarks of every marketing program?

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The challenge of any marketing strategy is that as marketing leaders we always face the great ‘leap of faith‘ that you can’t get over.  We try to design marketing programs that coincide with right place, right time and right target audience.  And we have binders full of statistical, demographic and ethnographic insights that we use to justify this triangulation.  But it all remains a guess.

Further, our target customers don’t choose to participate in a given media or social-networking channel saying, “I hope my favorite brand will market to me there!”  They choose these channels out of their own personal and professional interests and needs. 

Finally, their choice of channel constantly changes over time.

Thus the underlying issue is that our brand communities are mobile – not just in the phone sense but in the holistic sense.  And it’s our challenge and opportunity as marketing leaders to figure out how to keep up with them.  Yet many of our legacy approaches, processes and platforms do not enable this; instead, they focus more on the medium, rather than the brand community relevance.

What can we do to help solve the ‘mobility’ problem and better center our marketing on brand communities?

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I wanted to call out an interesting thought piece I saw on the Conversation Agent blog today.

Marketers are often excited about riding the wave of every new channel or technology medium for reaching customers.  There is a sense of cache, but there is also this sense that if you get in first, you can actually rise above the background noise and make your message heard.  In recent years, this has meant embracing social media as part of brand building.  The latest darling, of course, is Twitter.

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There is an unending stream of advances in technology for monitoring the quality and quantity of mentions of your brand … online and under specific circumstances.  But are you getting a complete, relationally-accurate picture of how your brand is performing both online and off?  And/or are you looking in the wrong place? 

To level set:  It is impossible – today – to have a dashboard that shows you 100% of overall brand perception and reputation in real time and across all channels.  And I would be weary of any technology vendor that tries to sell you on the promise of such a 100% picture.

Is there, however, a way to ‘sample’ multiple channels in a fashion that gives an accurate and proportional cross-section of real challenges, opportunities and context?  And can these samples be meaningful projections of the larger population?  Yes, but it requires challenging conventional wisdom about your program.

Here is what I propose as some thoughts on best practices for balancing your ‘brand picture’ – both online and off.

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We are officially launching this blog, and as is customary in the blog-o-sphere, we thought we would take a few minutes to give readers a sense of the blog’s focus, differentiation, contributors and agenda.

 

What is the focus of this blog?

This blog is focused on the topics of brands, marketing, innovation and technology – separately and together, in parallel and as they collide … and one of the firm beliefs of the folks behind this blog is that they ARE colliding.  This is requiring brand and marketing leaders to retool, but it also means that those developing new innovation and technology – especially software companies – need to retool.  A revolution is coming!

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