5 Essential Rules for Social Media and your small business brand

The original version of this article first appeared in the August 26th 2011 print edition of The Malaysian Reserve.

It is not a question of if you will stick your corporate toes in the social media waters, but when. Whether you like it or not, social media is taking the world of business by storm.

In a recent survey by Nielsen, a research company 73% of connected consumers in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam agreed they had been influenced by advertisements on social media.

Firms that continue to believe that social media is a fad or fun or not for business are only doing one thing, giving their competitors an advantage.

Research from Hubspot and MSN shows that companies with a social media brand strategy are seeing a significant increase in awareness, traffic to websites, search engine rankings, and social-media-generated qualified leads, perhaps the most important element of all. Moreover, statistics increasingly show that more and more people like to do business with businesses that have a strong social media presence.

But social media is much more than setting up a Twitter account or starting a Facebook page. Social media activities must be elements of your brand strategy in the same way as advertising, direct mail, email, PR are. The problem with these traditional activities is that they are reactive, you put it out there and wait for something to happen. If nothing happens you spend more money on another idea. If that doesn’t work you try something else.

A social media strategy, if done properly is proactive and can actually offer you all the things your traditional campaign can’t offer you – accountability, retention, a measureable return on investment, effectiveness tracking and more. Data from a 2010 report by Nielsen, a research company showed that social media had better results than traditional marketing activities.

So how should a small business enter the world of social media? The following five rules are relevant to any firm that seeks to develop a contemporary platform to raise awareness and be heard over the noise, acquire customers, increase sales and better serve customers which will in turn ensure customers are retained and not released to the competition.

1. Social media is not a technology issue it is relational and requires cultural changes within organizations.

The social media space is not the place for people with a traditional marketing mindset. Social media is exactly that, SOCIAL and requires you to use social skills to build rapport with consumers so that they may eventually become prospects, customers and possible evangelists. Trying to use a traditional marketing approach in social media and using a hard sell and trying to push a product or service in social media will damage your reputation.

2. Identify who in your organization will be responsible for your social media strategy.
You will need to have a social media strategy and it will have to be integrated with your brand strategy. If you don’t already have someone, you must be looking to hire a social media manager who reports directly to the CEO and not to a marketing or sales director. And because social media is incredibly dynamic and changes are happening 24/7, you are going to have to be prepared to give this person a lot of autonomy to interact with consumers and make decisions, some of which will be financial, that directly impact the relationship with prospects and customers.

In the old days of mass advertising across mass media you had control of the messages related to your brand. Social media is fluid, consumer driven and places the control of your brand in the hands of consumers. Accept that you have to relinquish control.

3. Social media is not a technical initiative, it is a relational initiative
Relationships don’t stop for an hour at lunchtime, at 5pm or over the weekend and nor does social media. Success in social media takes time as firms seek to build the credibility needed for consumers to trust them. Make sure posts are made daily and questions or requests attended to immediately even if raised over the weekend.

Although your social media strategy is not a technical initiative, social media personel need to have at least an understanding of related technology such as Google Analytics, Content Management Systems (like WordPress), and third party social media software like Tweetdeck and HootSuite – so as to assign metrics by which to assess and respond quickly.

4. Define your core audience and messages for those audiences.
Traditional marketing attempts to be all things to all people. This model won’t work on social media. If you intend to educate, identify who you want to educate and do so but don’t try to sell to them. If you have targeted them effectively, they will take the initiative and seek out more information about your organization and how you can provide value to them.

5. Social media is not a volume business
Someone once said that volume is vanity, value is sanity. What this means is that firms should look to increase profitability not sales. Used properly, social media can help you reduce your cost of acquisition and increase profitability. Don’t set out trying to have lots of followers who never buy your product or service. A single follower or friend who is engaged and interacts with you is worth more than a thousand followers or friends who only drop by once a year.

Social media is participatory and is an efficient tool for your organization to learn, exchange and build professional networks so take time to build individual relationships. Once you have a follower or friend or contact, you have their permission to interact with them in a consultative manner. It is not about broadcasting messages but holding conversations.

When a consumer gives an organization permission to speak to them, it is because they like what the organization is saying and want to hear more of it. An organization must engage, gain trust and then solve the problem. But be warned, this means that the organization’s messaging must be relevant just about 100% of the time.

This may take time and you may find it difficult to open up, especially if you and your marketing department, educated on a diet of broadcasting corporate driven messages to as many people as possible, are not used to sharing information, especially with prospects.

However, get it right and you will find that you build relationships and followers quickly, and inexpensively and this will lead to increased sales and more loyal customers who will not only spend more with you, they will share their experiences with your brand with their friends.


Suggestions to improve a travel website

One of my favourite business sites, Bnet has an interesting case study of a site that offers bespoke or customised trips in China. The site is not doing as well as the owners expected.

The article asks the question “Why doesn’t this website draw more visitors” and there is an outline of the situation with the issues and readers are invited to comment. I tried to add my comments but as has happened before, I couldn’t add them so I am including them below.

The look and feel of the site is drab and reminds me of websites from 10 years ago. The content is too ‘traditional’ and rather predicatable.

If they are not happy with the number of visitors, then SEO is obviously an issue. So many companies spend a fortune designing a site and then sit back and wait for the orders to flow in. If only it were so easy…

So what would I do to make things happen?

They need to improve the writing. Although this won’t improve traffic to the site, it’ll keep visitors on the site once they are there.

I’d talk to existing customers and ask them what improvements they would like to see. I’d also talk to prospects that have visited the site and made enquiries but have not booked and identify why they didn’t book.

Before that, they need to invest more in driving traffic to the website, especially if as stated, 10% of the marketing budget generates 70% of enquiries. I’d also investigate and measure the number of leads generated from those 1,650 page views, source of visits, conversion rates from all channels, lost prospects and retention rates.

Other thoughts
1) The target market doesn’t have time to wait for flash to load. Furthermore, many of them are probably accessing from smartphones between appointments or via laptops whilst at airport lounges with poor internet speeds. Keep the information simple and bin the flash. Also you need a mobile version of the site.

2) So many companies think a website will make sales for them. It won’t, it is nothing more than a brochure to generate interest. Once an enquiry comes in, start building a one on one relationship with those prospects.

3) The form is too long. The target market is the wealthy but the wealthy are careful about sharing information, especially at the prospecting stage. If I buy you can have that data but not yet. Let’s stick to email communications for now. And maybe twitter.

4) Social Media initiatives aren’t engaging enough and there is too much broadcasting. Moreover there appear to be comments by readers/fans to which there hasn’t been a response.

5) Although I didn’t read the Blog articles, the headlines on the home page would suggest they are press releases not blog posts.

The key in any customer facing exercise is to put yourself in the shoes of the people you are looking to communicate with. And the best way of doing this is to talk to the people that visit your site, those that do business with you as well as those that don’t.

Why you should start building your Brand today

This article first appeared in the Friday 29th April 2011 edition of The Malaysian Reserve/International Herald Tribune

Does this statement sound familiar? “I know I need to start thinking about building my brand but I don’t know where to start so it can wait.”

I’ve heard this statement a lot recently and if it is a general feeling throughout the business community, then we’ve got a problem.

We’ve got a problem because as Malaysia becomes an increasingly wealthy country it will increasingly become a target for global brands that have seen their penetration in more traditional markets reach saturation point.

Moreover, free trade agreements and stagnant manufacturing or services based economies are also encouraging global brands to take notice of countries like Malaysia.

In the last twelve months, major global brands from the agriculture, automotive, aviation, biotechnology, education, fashion, food, hospitality, logistics, property, transportation and other sectors that in the past have barely considered Malaysia, are now establishing offices here.

Even Unilever owned brand Marmite, a quintessentially British savoury spread most often used on toast, now has sales in excess of RM20 million in Malaysia, mainly because it makes a bowl of congee a little more interesting!

And as these global brands take note of Malaysia they will invest substantial funds to establish their brands here and once those brands are established, it will be difficult for Malaysian products and services to compete with them. Unable to compete, over time, these Malaysian brands will fail.

So Malaysian firms really must begin the process of building brands now, rather than later. The good news is that beginning the process of building a brand or revamping an existing company has many benefits. Some of the most significant include the ability to charge more for products and services as well as a reduction in costs. Furthermore, changes in technology and communications mean that Malaysian firms might not have to invest significant funds into mass communications.

A word of warning though. Any branding initiative should begin with a careful analysis of the organization, its processes and systems, especially those that are customer facing and whether or not it has a customer centric culture, what it stands for and whether these elements are relevant today. Be ready for bad news but see it as feedback and an opportunity to improve not as criticism.

And once the brand is ready, communications should focus not on broadcasting how wonderful the brand is across traditional mass media channels, but on engaging prospects with content that resonates with them and delivering economic, emotional and experiential value to consumers and across all touch points.

Here are six more reasons why you shouldn’t wait to start to build a brand.

Reason No 1: Branding unifies your organization & motivates staff
Your people will want to be part of a respected and recognized brand because personnel who can identify with and support a brand’s culture, values and behaviour are better motivated, more loyal and engaged, both internally and externally.

As a result, your people will have pride and an interest in the company they work for and what they do for that company. Morale will improve, productivity will rise and resignations will be reduced. Moreover, a culture that strives to deliver value to customers and on customer terms will prevail. This in turn will lead to increased sales.

Reason No 2: Branding integrates & enhances brand touch points
This is really important. Organisations with weak or non-existent brands more often than not, make promises they cannot keep, focus on acquiring customers but pay little attention to existing customers and underestimate the importance of the customer experience. By developing a brand and building processes and systems into the brand delivery system, every single touch point between your organization and the consumer will be geared towards delivering a positive experience. Positive brand experiences will go a long way towards building customer loyalty, key to profitability.

Reason No 3: Branding reduces costs
What better incentive can there be for building a brand? Branding requires a brand strategy and a strategy will anticipate multiple scenarios and prepare the organization for outcomes, reducing the likelihood of expensive cost over runs or unexpected expenses.

Furthermore, a well recognized and well respected brand attracts talent, reducing the need for time consuming recruitment campaigns and expensive head hunters. A brand also reduces marketing costs. Less established products or services can spend up to 10% of revenue on marketing, brands often spend as little as 0.8% up to 2% on marketing.

Reason No 4: Branding justifies a price premium
Yet another major incentive for anyone still not convinced they should be building a brand. Branding allows you to charge more for your product or service because people will pay more for a name they can trust and have confidence in.

Reason No 5: Branding shortens the sales cycle
A strong, well respected and recognized brand creates trust and an emotional attachment to the product which also helps to make purchasing decisions easier. Over time, this influences the speed at which a prospect or customer makes that purchasing decision. This in turn allows a company to build customer loyalty and create brand ambassadors to sell the brand on their behalf, shortening the process further.

Reason No 6: Branding blocks competition
By focusing on building a brand rather than carrying out a series of transactions, you will ‘ring fence’ your brand and stop the competition from poaching your customers. As interactions with your brand increase, customers will automatically think of you when thinking of your category, thereby ignoring competitors.

In an increasingly competitive and noisy environment where better established global brands with deeper pockets are starting to flex their muscle, it is imperative that Malaysian firms, large and small start to build their brands now, before global brands get a foot hold in the country and it is too late.

How to brand a city like Ipoh

Senior Executive Councillor Datuk Hamidah Osman of The Perak state government in Malaysia announced on a trade and investment mission to China recently that the state government, in an effort to boost its tourism industry, intends to brand Ipoh, the capital of Perak as the “City of White Coffee”.

Datuk Hamidah was quoted by Bernama “ Perak should have its own identity and branding just like Shenzhen that is known as the “Shoe City” and Paris which has long been known as the “City of Fashion”.

In conjunction with the plan, Datuk Hamidah said, “We plan to have a food fair to be held in Ipoh this December. The idea is to promote the local foods and tourism industry. We have the best bean sprout chicken rice and chee cheong fun (rice rolls),” she added.

Faced with increased domestic and international competition for both tourists and FDI, there is no doubt that Ipoh and Perak, need to develop a destination brand. But that brand must be based on a platform of multiple tourist attractions and business potential.

Set amongst picturesque limestone scenery, a diverse selection of tourist attractions include Kellie’s Castle, Perak Museum, Ipoh railway station, Tambun hot springs, Taiping lake gardens and Zoo, and more, Ipoh and the rest of the state have a lot to offer.

Other destinations include Pangkor and Pangkor Laut, Bukit Larut and others. Perak also has a rich heritage that can be promoted, including silver and tin mining. It is historically known as an innovator, having pioneered such advances as the first rubber trees in Malaysia and was also the first state in Malaysia to go wireless.

The tagline ‘City of white coffee’ certainly differentiates Ipoh from other destinations but what else does it tell potential visitors, businesses or investors? How can stories be developed around the tagline, who are the target market? How will it be communicated? If it is a one-size-fits all approach, it’ll need significant resources to communicate the new tagline. Have budgets been agreed and so on?

Today, Destination branding is not based on a tagline. Destination branding must be based on experiences that are successfully delivered to specific segments and not based on attempts to market all places to all people.

Research and data are critical to understand tourist and other stakeholder requirements before developing strategies and not the other way around.

Stakeholder buy-in is critical for brand consistency and fulfillment of the brand promise. As an example, how can a hotel contribute to the proposed approach? How can the same hotel leverage the approach to grow it’s business?

Branding is a long term coordinated and integrated strategic exercise and not a tagline. One-size-fits-all strategies using mass media are no longer effective.

Planning is essential to coordinate initiatives, ensure accountability and avoid wasting resources. Without a plan, activities will be reactive and tactical.

What Ipoh and other cities need is a consistent and organized methodology to brand themselves as domestic and international destinations.

Here is one approach that would definitely help Ipoh:

Stage one: Carry out extensive research
Research develops data on key success factors, generates insights and what current and prospective visitors seek, and provides benchmarks to measure branding ROI. The research should consist of the following activities

1) Destination analysis: Key members of the hotel industry, government bodies, local business associations and representatives of major attractions should be confidentially interviewed. The interview will be based on an agenda designed to explore a number of issues related to the city

2) Visitor audit: Carry out interviews with current and past visitors. Other groups can also be selected, such as conference organisers. The interviews will focus on the experiences and motivations associated with Ipoh, information resources, and suggestions for increasing tourist value.

Special attention will be paid to how they researched Ipoh, what they have heard or told others about Ipoh and the channels or vehicles used to tell them. Additionally, representative travel agents in Ipoh will be interviewed about tourist experiences and requirements. Online surveys will be useful to research baseline perceptions of brand Ipoh.

3) Place audit: A place audit will identify Ipoh’s economic/ demographic characteristics, review major attractions (including strengths and weaknesses of the attractions) and outline all brand assets. The place audit will also look to identify product potential.

4) Communications audit: A comprehensive analysis of the channels, vehicles and materials, both digital and print, current and proposed that are or will be used to communicate with both consumers and businesses.

Stage 2: Ensure community buy-in and set internal branding requirements
Community and other stakeholder buy-in is important both for delivery of the brand promise, development and ongoing funding. Stakeholders must be communicated with and input from stakeholders must be incorporated so that they understand that they play an important role in initial and ongoing brand development.

Such buy-in can be accomplished through a variety of activities, including “townhall” or other community meetings, private presentations and media briefings. Initial research findings and recommendations can be discussed as a basis for soliciting input.

Additionally, community buy-in requires a group of citizens, business people, and local and regional government officials. This planning group will:

• Define and diagnose the community’s condition, major issues and potential solutions

• Develop a long-term brand vision based on a realistic assessment of the community’s values, resources and opportunities

• Work to develop a long-term plan of action involving intermediate stages of investment and transformation

Stage 3: Brand plan development
The results of the research and community buy-in will be incorporated into a comprehensive plan for Brand Ipoh. This customized brand plan serves as a strategic framework for all marketing activities, messages, metrics, timetables and proposed budgets. Special attention should be paid to digital branding and product development to get previous visitors to return again.

Stage 4: Comprehensive and segment-specific execution & measurement
Unfortunately this is where most destination begin their brand strategy. Once the brand plan is in place, execution begins. The execution operates on two overlapping fronts – general and segment-specific:

General: General branding represents the ongoing efforts to ensure visibility and provide value to prospects, agents and visitors, as well as gather data, ensure continuous performance and maintain reporting.

Segment-specific: Segment-specific branding concentrates on two areas where it is important to establish and maintain strong relationships. These include existing customers/visitors, and target-rich segments such as families, agents, previous visitors, etc. The actual segments to be targeted will have been defined in the brand plan.

I appreciate that many cities will view this as a daunting and potentially expensive task. But it will not be as expensive as numerous one size fits all communications based on a tagline that tries to speak to all but really speaks to none.

Most Asian firms should not consider Positioning to be the right tool for Branding initiatives

Two of the most famous names in marketing – Jack Trout and Al Ries developed the concept of positioning back in the 1970s. Their business/marketing book, Positioning: The battle for your mind was written in the early 1970s and almost forty years later, is a well thumbed addition to the book shelves of respected marketing professionals around the world.

Jack Trout and Al Ries developed the concept of positioning because they believed that branding was becoming increasingly difficult as audiences were inundated with numerous and confusing communications. Positioning was promoted as a tool to “break through the clutter.”

Today, the following product description for the latest edition of the book on Amazon is: “Positioning” describes a revolutionary approach to creating a “position” in a prospective customer’s mind – one that reflects a company’s own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of its competitors. It goes on to say, “Advertising gurus Ries and Trout explain how to: make and position an industry leader so that its name and message wheedles its way into the collective subconscious of your market – and stays there.”

I disagree with this statement. Positioning may have been revolutionary in the 1970s but it can hardly be described as such today. Furthermore, where I come from, ‘to wheedle’ is not really a flattering term. In fact the free online dictionary has this definition, “To obtain through the use of flattery or guile: a swindler who wheedled my life savings out of me.”

The concept of Positioning also suggests the ‘position’ should be based on being first in a particular category. If another company is already first in the category, then the company should work to redefine itself in a new category to ensure it is first in that category. This was really important to Ries and Trout. In fact so important, that they felt it was more important to be first in the mind than first in the marketplace.

In the mass markets of the 1970s and 1980s, positioning was defined by perceptions. To influence perceptions and maintain a position within the relevant minds, it was imperative that companies dictate the information consumers received.

And, because of the power of mass media, this wasn’t an impossible task. Moreover, because most audiences were relatively passive, and they had little choice of products, well-researched messages were likely to register with targeted audiences.

Furthermore, advertising agencies and in house marketing departments also embraced the concept of positioning because it gave them total control yet there was little opportunity for accountability. After all, it was relatively easy to show progress in awareness or top of mind, but first in the category was tough to measure.

As a result, positioning was adopted by many companies and became a successful tool. In the face of this increased competition, many companies took the wheedling part at face value and started to manipulate information to control a hard fought for position that was threatened on many fronts. Soon fantastic claims were being made in advertising and other channels.

One example is the tobacco industry that tried to convince consumers that tobacco wasn’t addictive. Ford made a similar attempt to persuade prospects that the Pinto did not have design issues. More recently there were some outrageous claims around the Enron scandal and certain financial institutions last year were wheedling furiously!

Unsurprisingly, this has caused consumers to become more disillusioned and cynical and less likely to pay attention to claims made by advertisers. Here in Malaysia, 84% of those polled in a recent study by a daily newspaper said they didn’t believe what they read in advertisements. This despite the fact that many of the companies featured in those ads were attempting to position themselves in the minds of those very consumers.

Because positioning relies on mass media, it has to appeal to as many people as possible. This may be alright in a single or homogeneous market but what happens when a market is segmented?

Furthermore, firms consider a positioning campaign to be the communication of a particular message to a mass audience. But what happens if that audience doesn’t listen or accept the message? The advertising agency will tell the company to do it again, perhaps after tweaking the creatives a bit. This is also known as repositioning.

Jack Trout, this time with Steve Rivkin, released a book last year entitled REPOSITIONING: Marketing in an Era of Competition, Change and Crisis. The back cover calls this “A brilliant new book” and states, “So you’ve mastered the art of marketing. You’ve positioned your company, branded your product, and targeted your consumer. Unfortunately, in today’s economy, that’s not enough. You need REPOSITIONING.”

I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment but I have my doubts as to the effectiveness of repositioning.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think that positioning is a tool that was, in its time and for many products, a very good tool. But I don’t think it has a role to play in today’s customer driven economy. There may be some exceptions such as in the destination branding sector and some soft drinks may benefit but these are the exceptions not the rule.

I know it is hard to let go and there will be a lot of resistance to what I have written. After all, so much effort by so many people has gone into learning about positioning. But the world has changed. More importantly, consumers have changed. And marketers should acknowledge this and change with it.

Communications and the way consumers live have changed a lot over the last 40 years. Isn’t it time Branding and the way brands are built and the tools used to build those brands changed too?

Should destinations brace themselves for a brutal summer?

Grant Thornton has published a report that forecasts 373,000 visitors to the Football World Cup in South Africa in June. That’s a drop of 110,000 from original forecasts.

The big question is, are fans waiting to the last minute to book tickets or is this a sign of the recession? Certainly political tensions in the country may be causing fans to wait and see before making a decision on a significant financial commitment. After all it’s not just the match tickets. Fans also have to take into account the cost of flights, accommodation and internal travel which can be significant distances. Grant Thornton predicts fans will have to fork out US$4,000 each. For a family of four, that’s US$16,000 for a summer holiday in a recession! Hard to justify.

But I believe that the poor ticket sales are a result of the global economic situation. And if I am right, destinations in South East Asia could be heading for a brutal summer.

I think that free spending Europeans will forego an international holiday and instead invest in a large LCD or Plasma TV and stay at home to watch the World Cup. If they do go away, it will be either for a short domestic holiday or somewhere in Europe. I expect Eastern Europe to benefit.

If I am right, what should destinations do to soften the blow?

Well the first thing is to curtail one-size-fits-all mass market TV advertising communicating the usual white sandy beaches, tropical blue skies and azure seas. There is simply no differentiation from other destinations. Consider this comment from Qualitative research carried out by FusionBrand in the United States earlier this month,

“Watching the basketball today and an ad came on for a destination with some really nice water/resort images. It was Malaysia. But is (sic) struck me that the line Truely Asia gave me the feeling that they were trying very hard to say, “us too”. It gave me the feeling of them saying “we’re just like the other (good things) in Asia”. But the images in the ad could have been in the Carribean.”

How confusing is that?

There is no time to build a communications strategy for 2010. If it hasn’t already been done, and at least 2 countries in South East Asia don’t have a plan for 2010, it is too late. But there is still time to develop an integrated tactical approach to activity based not geographic based marketing.

Thirdly, embrace social media, NOW. Start to engage prospects and those who have visited via social media. Redistribute resources, train staff and create teams to build relationships with consumers via Facebook, Twitter, Travelocity, Tripadvisor and others. Forget about the old global buys on CNN and the BBC. Creating awareness via mass marketing wastes valuable resources and anyway, consumers aren’t listening. Reinvest that money in engaging consumers.

Fourth, don’t ignore the traditional web. Make sure your website is as contempory as possible. If you are sitting back thinking, why do we need to change or improve our website again, we updated it two years ago, the Internet is fluid. Destinations need to be seen as dynamic. Singapore is on its third design (and best so far) in two years.

Develop a plan for your digital tactics and don’t forget basic web marketing tools like SEO and SEM.

Call emergency meetings with all stakeholders – representatives of the mayor’s office from all key cities, transportation companies, travel agents, tour operators, shopping malls, hotels and so on. Identify what each has to offer and work with them to develop an integrated holistic plan to leverage their attributes and match those attributes to the requirements of target markets.

2010 is going to be a bumpy ride for cities, states and other destinations. This is an emergency and it calls for emergency measures.

Otherwise the 30% drop in arrivals in South Africa will be duplicated around South East Asia. And without the attraction of a World Cup, they could be magnified, causing many destinations to have a brutal summer.

Your communications are critical.

Asian companies need to stop following the herd

I’ve said it before, but I feel the need to say it again, according to Ernst & Young, up to 90% of products fail to become brands, despite US$1.5 trillion spent on marketing every year. Despite massive marketing budgets, global brands with extensive reach and high brand recall, numerous brands have died a painful and often avoidable death. Despite those massive marketing budgets, brand loyalty is decreasing and customer dissatisfaction is increasing.

So why do companies insist on investing massive amounts of money in marketing even though it is proven to be inneffective? There are a number of reasons – ego, inertia, fear of the unknown and fear of change, herd mentality and more.

But for the smart companies, think Dell, Amazon, Google, McDonalds, Walmart, Public Bank, Toyota, yes Toyota and many more, the halcyon days of inneffectiveness are over for marketing people and smart CEOs and CFOs expect, no demand greater accountability and more sustainable results from their marketing investments.

When branding was little more than a creative driven concept where a logo was used to make a name stand out and the world was much larger and competition was limited, the four Ps and old world communication goals such as reach, positioning and awareness were often enough to build a brand, then branding was little more than a subset of marketing.

But that US centric mass economy era no longer exists. The world is a much smaller, competitive and very different place today and branding has taken on a much more important role within the organisation. Moreover, consumers are more enlightened and cynical and no longer pay much attention to traditional marketing efforts.

The definition of a brand today is here

Key areas are retention (95% of marketing efforts are aquisition focussed yet very little is spent on retention so as 1 customer is expensively aquired, an earlier one also expensively acquired, walks out the door to the competition. Many companies lose money on the first sale. In the case of technology, it could be the first million sales. Brands are built on the 2nd, 3rd 4th and so on sale).

Organisational excellence (if you don’t do everything effectively and efficiently and on personalised customer terms, you won’t survive). Economic, experiential and economic value for customers (on their terms) and measurement.

It’s not only marketing that is now part of branding, it is also the supply chain, customer service, accounting, sales, purchasing and so on.

The world has changed and if you own a company, you need to change with it. You owe it to your shareholders, your customers, your staff and yourself. It is time to stop wasting money on proven inneffective marketing and start investing in your brand.

A is for Advertising

This is a good place to start a compendium of branding terms because unfortunately, it is where many companies start their brand building. And that’s a shame, no tragedy because it is an expensive exercise in futility to try and build a brand using advertising alone.

Advertising can be traced back to around the late eighteenth century when the first print ads appeared in the USA. However, they were rarely much more than extensions of the editorial copy and newspapers were reluctant to allow ads that were bigger than a single column. Even magazines preferred to print all the advertisements at the back of the publication.

Mass advertising only really began in the second half of the nineteenth century when firms began to produce greater quantities of more and more products thanks to improved production techniques. Soon after manufacturing, other businesses such as department stores and mail order firms jumped on the bandwagon and by 1880 advertising in the US was estimated to be in the region of US$200 million. This grew to almost US$3 billion by 1920.

In the mass economy of the 1930s to the 1990s that coincided with the growth of mass circulation magazines, advertising companies proliferated. At the same time, companies wanting to stand out from the competition determined, quite rightly that the quickest way to grow was to raise the profile and awareness of the company’s product or service by informing or reaching as many people as possible in the shortest time.

The most common way to do this was via advertising, especially via TV advertising. The business of advertising is based on a model of repetition across mass media. OK, creativity is important, initially anyway, but once you get over the wow factor, the idea is to repeat the same message through as many channels as possible for as long as possible.

Budget played (and still does) a significant part in what sort of advertising an agency may recommend. It is important for you to know that from the advertising company point of view, the size of the available budget will determine two main points, 1) who works on the project (in terms of seniority and talent) and 2) what channels will be utilised. A larger budget generally results in TV advertising becoming part of the recommendations.

Other platforms include print advertisements, billboards, lamp post buntings, banners, taxi, bus and tube trains, coffee shop tables, flyers, leaflets and more. The introduction of the Internet has seen a proliferation of banner ads, tower ads, unicast ads, contextual ads, takeover ads, interstitial ads, floating ads, and other options to an already noisy, crowded and complicated marketplace. It is important to note that none of these initiatives are branding, they are all advertising and advertising is a tactical initiative not a strategic initiative, like branding.

In the mass economy and unfortunately still to this day, once a campaign has launched, probably to much fanfare, the client waits with anticipation to see the promised sales spike. Meanwhile the agency submitted any well executed commercials to one of the numerous creative shows that offer awards for creativity.

As mentioned earlier, repetition is important and with enough frequency, and perhaps a little vague targeting, this repetition was expected to encourage enough consumers to walk into a store or other outlet and choose or request the advertised product.

The model worked, to some degree fifty years ago but in today’s crowded marketplace, using advertising alone to build a brand is leaving too much to chance. It is simply too difficult to stand out from the crowd. Can you remember the last ‘great’ TV commercial or print ad that you saw? And even if you can, have you bought the product?

Quite often, the promised sales spike didn’t happen, unperturbed and with a straight face, the agency would ask the client for more money, arguing that it is the client’s fault as it should have made more money available in the first place for increased frequency. If you have gone this route, I suggest you bin the advertising agency and call a brand consultant.

Should you still use advertising? Absolutely because advertising will help your company project a vision of the relationship you can deliver to the customer. The ads also help you to educate customers about the value that you can offer them. Advertising must also communicate trust. Unfortunately this is forgotten by most advertisers, especially in South East Asia where outrageous claims made in advertising are rarely backed up in reality. In Malaysia for example, after years of being let down by claims made in advertising, only 14% of Malaysians now believe what companies tell them in their advertising.

But instead of seeking to increase awareness of your product or service with as many consumers as possible, ensure your advertising seeks to communicate with those consumers that are most likely to adopt your product or service.

Make your advertising relevant to those consumers you have targeted. Core messages must be related to those consumers interests, needs and/or desires. So rather than a one-size-fits-all approach in your communications, it is essential for messages to be about offering value to those specific customers and making their life better as a result. How to identify those consumers and what is relevant to them will be explored in brand audits and targetting.

The goal is to ensure a consumer incorporates an offering into their personal or business lives.

Adoption will ensure your brand is seen as the best, hey perhaps even the only choice. This won’t happen on its own. It is a process built on operational excellence, superb sales incorporating ‘top of game’ customer service and the ability to match offerings to the consumers individual requirements for value, on an ongoing basis. To build a brand retention is key and retention requires relationships and without relationships, adoption is not achievable.

And this is good news for Asian companies because the fact is Asian companies, and especially those from South East Asia, simply don’t have deep enough pockets to compete with international brands using outdated one-size-fits-all, mass economy tactics.

Negative brand association, real world examples

In October of last year, I wrote a piece on my blog about negative brand association. You can read the short post here

David Ansett of Storm in Australia approached the subject from a different angle and you can read his piece here

Essentially, my attitude is that if the concept of positioning a product in a consumers mind is a serious concept then it is only logical to assume that the same process can have a negative impact on the brand. Over the next few months, I will post examples that I encounter and I hope you guys will enter into a conversation with me on the impact, either positive or negative, of this brand association.

So we’ll kick of this project with a grab of a page I encountered today. I saw the question after answering another question and thought to myself that it would be interesting to see what, if any, the responses to the question might be.

As you can imagine I was shocked to see the ad right under the controversial, not to mention provocative question!

Today’s negative brand association story comes from the BBC site. This time it is a video about a drunk driver in China who is caught on film smashing into road dividers and barricades. You can see the full video here

You’ll note that the story is preceeded by a commercial for Lexus!

Here is a still image from the end of the commercial.

Actually this could also be included in brand disasters. Is it appropriate for a luxury brand such as Lexus to be associated with a drunk driver? Or does it not make a difference?

Any comments?