We have already talked about how lightly brands need to tread in a world where everyone is watching, where companies have unprecedented access not only to an enormous raft of potential consumers, but also to the ever-vigilant eyes of potential critics. "Trial by Twitter" is a process that has found many brands guilty, and unfortunate gaffes are never far from mind. Take Waitrose's social media misfire last autumn, where its "Reasons" campaign was hijacked and turned on its head by teasing tweeters. Rather than issuing an apology as such, they did feel they had to acknowledge the jocular nature of people's reactions. Other brands to have faced similar cyber-ribbing have reacted in various ways, either by adopting a similarly rebald tone, or by going on an unrepretant offensive, as this blog post discusses. And we can't forget the reaction to Nick Clegg's apology video, which went viral last year and totally undermined his attempt to clear the air with the British electorate.
People around the world apologise in different ways. In Japan, the act of apologising is considered a virtue (more on this later). It is no surprise, therefore, that their language and culture have such a diffuse number of ways to express the sentiment of sorriness. The same cannot always be said of the West, where people can often be found saving face by issuing 'apologies' that are entirely devoid of any sincerity or meaning. Or the classic British reflex-action apology, where "sorry" is used so unsparingly that it is roughly akin to "hmmm".
Whatever the 'right' approach, there can be little doubt that the apology is an important art when errors in communication are so easy and public. And things only get more complicated when that apology has to be made across cultures, where different conventions, traditions and politics, not to mention different languages, are at play. Last week, Apple found themselves issuing a public apology to their Chinese customers following criticism from state media outlets about the company's warranty terms. The apology received extensive news coverage across the country, to the bewilderment of many Chinese people, who found the authorities' glee at events of somewhat baffling compared to the varitable silence over more significant matters of public interest. What was perhaps most interesting about Apple's apology was the way it was worded - "At the same time," they said, "we also realise that we have much to learn about operating in China, and how we communicate here." In this knowledge, a comprehensive global communication audit might have saved any embarrassment, taking advantage of local expertise and insight to achieve a "finger on the pulse" - essential for survival in the modern technology jungle.
As we've already mentioned, the cross-cultural apology is a complicated process due to the linguistic, political and cultural considerations that need to be taken on board. Indeed, an episode at the end of 2012 shows the extent of the complications in China, with the reporting of an "apology" made by the new Leader of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping. When arriving late for a speech, he made a comment which literally translates as "made everyone wait a long time". Does this mean "sorry"? According to the presiding English interpreter, it did. Later on, however, opinion was divided among observers, with some objecting to translations from various international media outlets that played up the "sorry" aspect, while others felt the literal translation - with its more unrepentant connotations - was appropriate.
An extreme exxample of how cultural conventions can differ cme with the public apology offered by Japanese popstar Minami Minegishi following revelations that she had spent the night with her boyfriend. She appeared with a shaved head, begging the public for forgiveness in a traditional act of contrition.
There is no escaping the fact that, were the divas of Europe or the US to so flail themselves for such minor misdemeanours, the blogosphere would be utterly saturated. Yes, it might have been over the top and unccessary, but it was also on some level based on cultural tradition.
Even before social media and the Internet were glimmers in Al Gore's eye, "word-of-mouth marketing" was important to brands. That's because people have had conversations about brands since the dawn of time. I still remember, when I worked at a sporting-goods store in high school, my manager telling me that a customer will tell two people about a positive shopping experience but will tell seven people about a bad one. I can't say how valid those numbers are, but the gist rings true: Conversations between consumers about brands are far more influential than any advertisement has been or ever will be.
If you don't believe me, just ask Nielsen. Its 2012 survey of global trust in advertising, which asked consumers what influenced their purchase decisions, found that 92 percent of respondents trust (completely or somewhat) recommendations from people they know. Even if they don't know someone, they still trust that person's opinions more than any other kind of advertising (70 percent trust consumers' opinions posted online). A distant third was editorial content (owned media). So there's no question that while paid, owned and earned media are partly responsible for growing awareness and loyalty, they are no match for the influence of people.
This influence works both ways, remember. While brands like the Human Rights Campaign, which motivated 2.7 million people to use its red "equality" logo as their Facebook profile photos, are benefiting from positive word of mouth, United Airlines and Victoria's Secret felt (or are still feeling) the wrath of the consumer—in the form of a voice that social media can amplify exponentially.
So how do you get people talking positively about your brand? That's where storytelling comes in.
Creating a Brand Narrative
In the post-advertising age, the brands that are succeeding are the ones that in effect turn themselves into stories—creating original, authentic media that their customers actively choose to engage with, explore and then recommend to others. The old model was 2 percent conversion. Now it's 100 percent engagement.
But engagement is an industry buzzword and nothing you haven't already heard. So how can digital storytelling help you create positive word-of-mouth about your brand?
First, brands have make an effort to map their digital touch points and create a strategy that will encourage the right customers to voluntarily associate with a brand, thereby building a much deeper knowledge of and connection to it. That allows the brand to tell its customers a new chapter of its story every time the customers touch it. So the first chapter of a story might describe the brand's approach to sandwich making. The next might describe the types of people the brand employs, how the brand goes out of its way to appreciate customers, and so on. The channels and stories vary from brand to brand, but what remains the same is the commitment to creating great content that is audience-serving, not just self-serving.
Next, the content may be branded but must also be useful and entertaining or both. This type of content, such as Subway's original 4 to 9ers web series and The Walking Dead's immersive after-show, get people talking about the brand in the context of interesting content that doesn't feel like advertising.
Finally, after unearthing a brand's story, mapping the touch points and creating engaging content, brands have one last step to take to align audiences with their story—it's what I call the leap. Brands have to get out of their comfort zone and embrace their audiences in good times and, probably most important, in bad. Gary Vaynerchuck, a brand in and of himself, constantly does this. At the most recent SXSW conference, he purchased a vendor booth and simply stood behind it for hours while attendees lined up to ask him question after question. I've never seen anything like it, and I've told countless people about Gary's "leap." He opened his brand up to all his fans and provided not only an authentic human connection but also valuable answers to their questions.
Brands that exist outside of a single human body also have opportunities like this, especially when they are in crisis mode. Domino's practically wrote the book on reactive customer service when, on several occasions, its brand was shown in an unsavory light. From customers' unflattering reviews to customers' damning photos to deplorable behavior on the part of employees, Domino's listened, owned up to its mistakes and responded honestly and in a way that made a difference. In fact, Domino's was able to use the experience it gained through responding to the crises and turn it into content marketing.
The Power of Customer Conversations
The greatest change in the post-advertising age is that conversations have become media. A brand must not only create great content but also help foster positive conversations. That's exactly what Domino's did and what United Airlines should have done. Social-media tools amplify these conversations, and then it is just arithmetic: billions of social-media users, each with hundreds of friends and followers. The conversations themselves are assembling large audiences in the way that mass (paid) media used to, and it is up to brands to craft the right narratives.
"Yeah, everyone's not me."
Carrie Matthison, Homeland
Premium is becoming an overused word like amazing (is that sandwich really amazing?), or a misused word like literally (most people are "literally" using it wrong). Just because a company uses the word premium to describe its product – it doesn't make it original, high quality, distinctive or even valuable to the consumer. As any fan of Homeland, Shameless or even,Gigolos will tell you, Showtime is definitely a premium cable channel, worth every extra dollar you spend for entertainment. Any car owner who spends more at the pump for premium gasoline understands higher-grade fuel means better engine performance.
But for every real premium experience, there are plenty that aren't. An entrepreneur in Malaysia has launched a premium coffee served at luxury hotels in Asia and the Middle East, that sells java to connoisseurs for $50 a cup. The "premium" refining process? The coffee beans are fed to Thai elephants, plucked from the pachyderms' dung and, then, prepared for roasting. Makes you reconsider any grumbling over paying more at Starbucks.
The same holds for premium content. Almost every publisher believes their content is premium. And yet, too often a premium content experience for readers means articles about a topic you care about surrounded by stories of moisturizing jeans and cross-dressing virgins.
The definition of premium should be overhauled before this awesome term literally becomes irrelevant. At a basic level, premium content must have a point of view, tell a compelling story and be visually engaging. Depending on the intended audience, premium content can be a recipe for whole-wheat blackberry scones on 101 Cookbooks, a list of the top 10 epic tech gadget failures on ReadWrite or a DYI for a sequin bracelet from Honestly...WTF. The quality of the content is determined by something that's too often taken for granted: reader engagement. Not pageviews or clicks, but real engagement. Did the reader leave a comment? Were they moved enough to "like" it? Tweet it? Pin or share it? If they did, that engaging content deserves the title of "premium."
Provocateur Jane Pratt of xoJane has mastered the art of reader engagement. The loyal audiences at Sassy and Jane magazines are as responsible for establishing Jane's no-holds-barred editorial style as she is. It’s not unusual for a story on xoJane to elicit hundreds of enthusiastic reactions. Jane created a viral tsunami when she asked readers to submit pictures of themselves when they first wake up, resulting in hundreds of entries, participation by Courtney Love and major media coverage. By making her readers part of the story, Jane ruled social media before it was even called that.
Every publisher and brand online looking to be considered premium needs to determine the value of the relationship between content and reader. That is the only way the true essence of premium can remain pure and doesn't become a matter of quantity over quality. As digital media becomes more fragmented and increasingly personalized, premium content is signified by its intrinsic value to the reader and its ability to motivate someone to take action. It means rethinking the idea that bigger is better for brands, and embracing the power of environments where people are talking. It’s the choice between screaming one’s brand message at half-million bustling pedestrians in Times Square or addressing a captivated audience 5 percent the size in Madison Square Garden.
The highest rated show currently on network TV has an average of five times the viewers of the season two finale of Homeland. And no disrespect to those wacky nerds Leonard and Sheldon, they entertain millions of people each week. But, do they elicit any morning-after, water cooler talk about their latest hi-jinks at a Star Trek convention? Not likely. Now try bringing up Carrie, Brody and Abu Nazir in conversation, and like that coffee from Malaysia, that's some premium ... stuff.
Thom Allcock is the publisher of Style for Say Media.
Red Bull has been awarded the number one spot as the best global brand in social video strategy in Goviral’s new report: ‘The Global Social Video Equity Top 100’. The report measures brands on their effectiveness in branded content within the social media space.
The Red Bull Stratos campaign won huge media coverage and became a viral phenomenon with its video of the highest ever skydive by daredevil Felix Baumgartner who broke the speed of sound with the stunt. Clearly, Baumgartner had the world’s eyes on him, and with it, helped Red Bull pull off one of the biggest global marketing stunts ever.
The top ten social video brands, according to Goviral’s report are:1. Red Bull
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The Italian Fashion brand Benetton has always made waves around the world for its provocative and shocking advertising campaigns. Its most well known campaigns include ‘Food for Life’, ‘La Pieta’ and the UNHATE campaign. However, Benetton claims to be changing tact and wants the brand to become more socially engaging, rather than shocking.
Benetton’s new campaign, called ‘Unemployee of the Year’, raises the issue of youth unemployment. It consists of a short film, a printed ad and a contest for young people to present a project in support of local communities, and the winning entries will receive funding from Benetton.
By Crispin Reed
The challenge of 'eastern' brands going west is not a new one. It wasn't that long ago – well only a couple of decades ago, that Japanese products, be they electronic goods or cars, were seen as cheaper, poorer quality imitations of western brands. And it was even more recently that Daewoo cars and Samsung electronics (both from Korea) suffered the same issues. But look at those brands now. Samsung, in particular, is doing exceptionally well having recently launched gesture-controlled plasma screen TVs.
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