Friday, 11 December 2009

Social Networks, Geolocation, Recommendations and Double Jeopardy....

      Warren Buffet was attributed to once saying "Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it’s not going to get the business”, but is this necessarily true? While logic would dictate that those brands which charge more must deliver a greater value in return, theories such as Ehrenberg's "Double Jeopardy" highlight the power larger brands have in the market place."Double Jeopardy" as described by William Mcphee and more famously, Andrew Ehrenberg, describes the concept that lower market share brands face a double challenge in competing with larger brands as they lack market share and brand loyalty from consumers. In such situations, the advantage large brands have from such jeopardy may encourage consumers to repeat purchasing behavior on factors beyond the value delivered by a specific purchase.

     To combat the advantage large market share brands have in the market place, smaller brands much differentiate. However, as large brands hold the advantage of possessing the promise of a standardized consumer experience, smaller brands must assure the consumer of quality, while still differentiating in tangible ways from larger competitors. Certain sectors allow for this more so than others, with clothing and food retailers serving as an example where double jeopardy and large brand advantage is chipped away by factors such as convenience, location, product differentiation and varied cost. In an example of such, Pizza Hut may provide a standardized dining experience over the Italian bistro down the corner, but consumer taste may eschew what is seen as pedestrian fare for a more personalized experience.

      Using the food retailing example further, it becomes clear how smaller market share (i.e. non-chain) restaurants face the dual challenge of differentiating in image while still assuring the consumer of quality vs. larger chain restaurants. Segments of consumers may always ignore larger brands out of principle (I for one irrationally loathe Arby's), but attracting the majority of consumers hinges on convincing them of not only an interesting and different product, but also of a level of performance and quality. The development of social media use within the last decade provides a unique opportunity for such retailers. Large brands have the challenge of convincing users to trust them in a way small brands don't. The "corporate stigma" of such means that smaller brands have the opportunity to gain consumer trust quicker. While these brands still have to convince consumers of their standard of quality, they have the ability to confer an earnestness to their image that goes well with the communication model found in social media.

The ability of recommendation sites to get the word out about smaller retailers works both ways....

        Sites such as Qype and Yelp operate as a network of consumer reviews and recommendations with an established and growing database of users and locations. Having been established since 2004-2005, these sites have become a hub of user generated information for consumers, providing third party recommendations on the standards of quality provided by smaller/medium brands. Where smaller restaurants lacked the ability to widely spread their message of differentiation and quality, these recommendation sites have taken on the job for them. These recommendations chip away at an already weakened double jeopardy concept (due to the sector's composition and nature), allowing small food retailers to speak with a verifiable quality larger than their size.
        With the benefits of sites like Qype, the next issues for smaller brands and reputation in social media becomes the level to which user recommendations are trusted by others. A recommendation from a trusted source or with demonstrable elements can hold more impact than a glut of others. With the advent of microblogging sites, reviews have become much more instant, allowing users to confer a level of immediacy to their thoughts on smaller brands and retailers. While sites like Twitter may trim the amount of detail that can be given about a business or consumer experience, it does allow for opinions to be disseminated while still in the retail experience. Furthering this, geolocated services such as Gowalla, Foursquare, Rummble, Loopt, Dopplr, etc. add perhaps the highest level of authenticity to consumer reviews, confirmation that the reviewer is currently there or was in the past. By demonstrating consumer action, these services extend the depth of consumer reviews, as well as opening new avenues for promotion through their network.

Just a few of the many networks that are driving the ability of small brands to establish big loyalty

      The opportunities afforded by social media channels may challenge the traditional idea of brand loyalty and scale, but they can be co opted in both offensive (small to medium brands) and defensive (large brands) ways. For small to medium companies attempting to use social media advocacy to build their brand, its important to remember a few concepts:
          1.) Make sure the product delivers on its amount of advocacy will help (or actually be present) if the consumer experience is negative
          2.) Be honest about how your product fits into the consumer's mind.....performance and reputation building will function differently for different products. People are more apt to recommend certain product types overothers.
          3.) If the product fit is right, take advantage of the enthusiasm of networks and network users to grow their community....Just monitoring what people are saying is fine, but to actually chip away at large market share brand dominance, offensive measures promoting consumer involvement are useful. Programs such as Foursquare's "Foursquare for Businesses" initiative are useful to go beyond user recommendations to user interaction.

Larger companies face a more defensive structure when dealing with social networks and their brand loyalty. Without the organizational agility of smaller to medium sized brands, loyalty has to be protected through more thoughtful measures:
           1.)  Make sure the product and the surrounding associated amount of advocacy will help (or actually be present) if the consumer experience is negative or if brand perception is firmly entrenched. Larger brands with multiple locations are at more of a disadvantage when it comes to standardizing the consumer experience.
           2.) Use the scale of the brand to respond robustly to consumer comments. Unlike smaller brands, large brands aren't as likely to be able to build up earnest consumer recommendations as quickly without overcoming perceptions about corporations and size. The increased resources of big brands means that one can go beyond reacting to consumer reviews and opinions and actually respond, rectify and encourage advocacy.
            3.) Don't simply match what smaller brands are doing to increase advocacy, surpass it. If the resources are present to dwarf smaller brands interaction with the consumer, do it. Consider social network partnerships (as long as it fits the brand identity) or cross network promotions. The more users that can be gathered through the brand's scale effectively, the better.

        While the points made about double jeopardy and social media don't easily extend to all market categories, the original concept stays the same. Consumers may be more apt to review bars, pubs, restaurants and other retailers more than cereal brands, but that doesn't mean that something like smaller FMCG breakfast products can't leverage some consumer sentiment to affect distribution and retailer adoption. Within the above example, double jeopardy and brand loyalty is affected by inherent factors within the restaurant market, however the idea is clear that the way brands maintain and generate loyalty and adoption is changing rapidly due to the ongoing advancements in social media.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

When does edgy become creepy: The Shiny Suds Ad....

     Advertising, some would say, is all about pushing the barriers to cut through today's fog of marketing noise. Be it through content, platform or delivery innovations, the need for advertisements to generate awareness and staying power in an increasingly habituated consumer's mind is a driving force behind a lot of the creativity we see today. The drive to innovate within content can lead to a multitude of impressive advertisements showing off visual innovations, musical collaborations or a host of other ideas to garner attention. In the drive to advance content, one generally easy way is to challenge the viewer's sensibilities with edgy or 'cusp of the social norm envelope' writing and creative. Viewers are more likely to remember something that shocks them, so a reasonable expectation is that creating something which can do so, easily solves the problem of viewer habituation.

London's Cabwise "Know what you're getting into"campaign against the use of unlicensed mini-cabs is very jarring, but uses such to bring about social change

      However, through pushing edgy content, one has to be mindful of the border between shocking and revolting. Viewers that are shocked, but still in their comfort zone, can be drawn in by a captivating, possibly humorous and novel advertising message. However, those pulled outside of what they are ready to culturally ingest may remember your message in a less than positive way. Perhaps most of all, edgy advertising has to consider not only what overall society finds offensive and acceptable, but also what the target market's sub group will allow. In some ways, an advertisement that causes some general outrage and discussion can be a useful tool to raise awareness, as long as the target market isn't too alienated to interact with the brand.

     With that in mind, the current controversy around Method's 'Shiny Suds' ad seems to typify striking a balance between memorable and slightly creepy. Method, the household cleaner maker, has decided to pull an ad which drew the ire of various rights groups due to what was claimed to be a depiction of rape type elements. The ad, which I don't believe goes as far as some of the claims thrown against it, does personally give off a slightly creepy feel, something I don't believe is the intended outcome.

"Shiny Suds" - Not really NSFW, but you might get some odd looks...

     As shown above, the advertisement centers around Method's focus on left behind chemicals, something their organic line can use as a decided advantage against other products, visualized as a group of anthropomorphic bubbles. While at first capturing less than full attention simulating an actual 'Shiny Suds' cleaner ad, the real messaging begins once the pseudo ad is over. As the housewife from the faux advert enters her bathroom the next morning, the bubbles are still present, firmly refusing to leave and finally watching her shower, cheering on the presence of a Luffa.

     The brief description of the second part of the advertisement doesn't seem horribly offensive to most on paper (definitely not warranting comments about rape elements), however, in its actual execution, one does feel a slight sense of revulsion. The slightly lurid, all male voicing of the bubbles does seem to convey some ominous foreshadowing, in a lugubrious tone that might be better fit for a dingy bar than the bathtub. Do I think Method set out to create such an advertising experience? Probably not. But I do think the initial goal of making chemical residue revolting, combined with the voice-over elements and the extension of certain scenes combined to make what could have been a possibly funny & cheeky execution into something rather awkward in parts.

     Am I offended by the overall advertisement? Not really. But importantly, I'm not the target market. I'm a 27 year old guy who purchases cleaners sporadically at best. I've never considered what chemicals are in my shower, nor would I care if they stuck around (as long as they keep cleaning and didn't start talking). For what I assume is a majority female target market, I don't see why someone didn't consider how the creative would be taken.I believe at some level, Method was attempting to make a memorable viral, something that would drive conversation about the brand while being passed around for the frat boyish humor of the bubbles. However, as we talked about earlier, the goal of pushing the envelope is to challenge the intended viewer's sensibilities, not alienate them. Even if a majority of the target market found the ad funny, the awkwardness of some of its presentation limits any viral potential or long term messaging it has. People pass on messages to others because they want to be attributionally part of the idea, something this may have a hard time starting due to worries about other's reactions to it.

     While what seems to be the intended message for the ad, "Buy Organic Cleaner or Be the Pleasure Object of Compound Chemicals" is a tough execution from the beginning, they really did seem to miss the mark. I don't condemn Method for making the ad and I certainly don't accuse them of intentionally making anything horribly misogynistic, but I do think they've clearly illustrated the need to understand the line between palatable edgy and otherwise.

Monday, 7 December 2009

5 Reasons why programming can help your understanding of Advertising/Media...

Everything has been pretty hectic around most aspects of my existence lately, so projects like the Social Media Thunderdome have ground to a halt, but will start again soon. 

     Currently, I've spent the last few days programming (something I've been known to do sporadically for work) and it got me thinking about how useful it is in the overall scope of Advertising and Media. I know every position in marketing/media varies in the way computer science and programming can be applied or proven useful, however, I think that a variety of reasons exist why understanding such can help how you think about Marketing Communications. Most people in Advertising or Media outside of specific programming related jobs, myself included, don't have specific Computer Science qualifications. In spite of this, I don't think it should discourage anyone from understanding general concepts or even go on to teach themselves a language or software package.

Understanding programming doesn't mean that you'll be hearing "Mr Szalinski, your 2pm client meeting is here.... "

     In thinking about this, I've managed to come up with 5 reasons why I think everyone in Marketing should understand atleast basic concepts related to programming. This doesn't mean you have to go out and learn Visual Basic, C++, C#, Java, Fortran (god forbid) or Actionscript tomorrow, but as with everything in marketing, a variety of skills and knowledge can prove useful.

5 Reasons Why Programming Can Help You Understand Advertising & Media:

1.) Programming helps you to understand, shape and visualize data.
     Data, be it consumer opinion, awareness figures, ROI calculations, channel prices, sales figures or anything else, is an integral part of creating and implementing effective Marketing Communications. Programming and software development can help to show you what formats data can be stored in, how it can be manipulated from those and what outputs are available. As more and more creative data visualization techniques are becoming popular, the ability to shape data into something more interesting than a simple Power Point chart is increasingly valuable. Working with even something as basic as data shaping macros in Power Point or Excel can cut research or development time by more than half, as well as reduce repetition in your daily work.

2.) An understanding of Programming helps you to understand the limitations and capabilities of digital creative content and social media.

     There is no better way to understand what something can do than by seeing how its made. No one expects everyone working in fields related to digital Marketing Communications to be able to create it, but a few articles on flash development, web design or social network APIs can mean the difference between the ability to clearly explain what you're visualizing or waiting for someone else to find it for you. As more and more social media campaigns gain notoriety, the ability to track, understand and change communications messages and objectives hinges on the degree to which someone understands what the capacity of the medium is technically.

3.)  Learning even the basics about how software is made can allow you to gain insight into how technology is developing
      Technology is a broad and varied field which constantly expands and reinvents itself. Therefore no one is expected to be an expert on every established and emerging field. Finding something you're interested in though, be it mobile, desktop or other platform development, can allow you to see the shape of the field as it stands and where its going. The interplay between software and hardware development also allows those with an understanding of the field to view new platforms and technologies in a more application oriented light.

      You don't need to know how to actually write an iPhone application to read about the technical developments coming out of the platform. Understanding the things that are being developed and the challenges they face on a more technical level can allow you utilize newer capabilities and concepts for communication efforts.

4.) For those that currently, previously or will work on technology based accounts (business or consumer tech), an understanding of software development will go along way towards shaping relevant campaigns and content

"Good copy can't be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You've got to believe in the product." -David Ogilvy

     I tried to find another Ogilvy quote about the need to become a master in the fields of your clients, but I believe the available one communicates the same concept. For those working on technology based accounts, a basic understanding of the field is a given. The insight given from learning about software design, as talked about above, can allow you to deepen this understand quickly and along a relatively clear path. For example, individuals working on accounts for a word processing software company would do well to read about advancements toward cloud computing based platforms.

    Software exists as an interaction between what the user wants, what the developer does based on what he/she thinks they want and what is actually delivered. Understanding the development process allows you to see all sides of this relationship, something that can prove helpful in any part of a technology based issue.

5.) Learning more about how software works will help your overall computer skills by demystifying technology

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" - Arthur C. Clarke

    I know from personal experience, that growing up learning how to use a computer in concert with learning how to program helped me to not fear breaking a system. Of course, a few computers took a while to rebuild during this long and still ongoing development process, but knowing how something works helps you to see its strengths and weaknesses. Knowing how software is written allows you to see that errors can (almost always) be fixed and crashes (most of the time) aren't the end of the world. Through a greater understanding of different levels of a technology, what at first seemed imposing, can later become second nature.

    I've written this list from the perspective of someone who isn't formally trained in Computer Science. I've worked as a programmer before, but my education is firmly in the fields of Marketing & Psychology. I don't claim to be highly technical as I'm proficient in VB (and sadly VBA) as well as some C++ and web design, but even I'm currently intimidated looking at Actionscript (the current learning project). I'd love to know what people more and less technically inclined think of the list, so leave some comments below.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Can brands pull? Consumers, Brands, Relationships & Love

"Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired." Robert Frost 

  "I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I've ever known." Walt Disney 
     Whenever anyone mentions brand interaction with consumers, the term "relationship" seems to inevitably be used to describe the interaction between a firm a possible/current customers. Within such conversations, its usually stated that brands want consumers to engage in a relationship that involves "loving" (or at least consumer affinity) for the product or brand. If consumer affection is truly what brands seek, then some interesting similarities may exist between consumer-brand relationship dynamics and interpersonal (i.e. consumer to consumer) relationships. However, is what a brand obtains truly affection in any manner similar to personal relationships?

Why and how do people form relationships? or a quick overview of all of human behaviour....
        In comparing relationships across individuals (as both people and consumers) and brands, one first has to ascertain what the nature of both relationships are. The possible goals of forming personal relationships takes on a scale too large to fully discuss here. However, generally, one could say that people form three general categories of relationships with others: romantic, friendship/acquaintanceship and formal/functional.

       Romantic relationships at their most basic level aim to facilitate love (something we'll attempt to quantify loosely below) in its various manifestations, along with alleviating what could be argued are biological/evolutionary instinctual needs and sociological pressures (That's a seriously large concept to quantify). Friendship in its exclusively platonic form can be basically quantified as alleviating pressures for companionship and societal acceptance/esteem, as well as fulfilling instinctual drives for social behavior. Finally, functional relationships are generally formed based on a shared goal, position or objective and at their base fill the need to achieve the goal at hand.

       Along these rather basic and somewhat transitory categories, goals overlap and relationships may migrate. Exclusive friendship may transfer into a romantic relationship (or vice versa) and functional relationships based initially on a task or common goal may take on or migrate to additional categories. Proximity (literal or increasingly virtual) is said to play a large role in relationship building and it can be reasoned that it functions as an integral part of how relationships are formed in varying degrees by category.

         Along this rough framework, we can see how George Levinger's (1983)  theory of interpersonal relationship development may illustrate the transitory nature of relationships. Levinger theorized (initially for heterosexual adult relationships, but with later application to other groupings) that relationships had 5 steps:

Click for Larger Version..

      Through basic analysis of the model, we can see how interpersonal human relationships develop and relate to the roughly created categories.

How do interpersonal relationships differ from the basic consumer relationship model?

     While interpersonal relationships can quickly change their intended goal throughout development, consumer relationships are much more rooted in a fixed point. At the heart of all consumer/business interaction is the delivery of value. From a consumer's perspective, this makes the goal of the relationship alleviating a need or drive, while from the brand perspective this involves delivering the desired product or solution and completing the transaction. The general consumer buyer decision process states that 5 stages occur before, during and after the a consumer decision/purchase:

Click for Larger Version....

         Within the model of consumer purchase and interaction, value is what drives a repeat purchase. The brand must deliver on expected value to minimize post purchase dissonance and ensure that the consumer continues to keep the brand in a strong position within its consideration set.The failure of a brand to deliver on its value proposition may represent a possible "Termination" of an ongoing brand/consumer relationship, if the failure is strong enough. In this sense, the consumer decision model represents one interaction in what will hopefully be a string of interactions, while Levinger's model represents the development of an overall interpersonal relationship.

Is value an underlying force in all relationships?

   While both models seem to describe different aspects of varying relationships, there exists similarities between the two. Both the consumer/brand relationship and interpersonal relationship models rely on value as a driving force.While value may manifest in different ways between the two relationships, the overall implication is the same. Just as a consumer will prefer products that meet with expectations of performance and value, an individual will continue to develop relationships with other individuals that meet an individual's expectations of interaction. Logically then, it can be assumed that as value underlies both models, a combination of the two, with the consumer model describing micro interaction and Levinger's describing the macro or overall relationship development can be applied to both categories of relationships, as shown below.

Click for Larger Version....

If relationships develop similarly, does it mean a brand or product can progress down the model to love?

     While both categories of relationships can utilize a combined model, differences between the two mean that the rate of progression through the model and the final destination within it depend upon a variety of factors. Within the three stated categories of relationships, brands and individuals are most similar within the functional category, due to the limited distance traveled within the model to achieve such a relationship and the lack of complex emotional ties involved. Within friendship and romantic relationships however, a complex interaction of external factors and internal preferences and emotions drives the development of the relationship.

        Therefore, to understand the interplay between brands and love, we need to first look at how love can actually be defined. To define love fully is something that hasn't been accomplished in the course of human history and I highly doubt I'll be the first to do it. Love can be defined along scientific, religious, anthropological or psychological lines and even within the field of psychology, amongst multiple perspectives. For our purposes, love is defined amongst Sternberg's triangular model.

     Sternberg's model divides types of love amongst three main aspects (Intimacy, Passion and Commitment). The combination or absence of these key factors allows for the distinction of 8 different types of love, ranging from "Non Love" (the absence of all love) to "Consummate Love" (a perfect type of love involving all aspects of the overall concept).

     Though brands and individuals may share similarities in the combined model for development, their performance in evoking various components of love is different. This doesn't mean that brand's can't evoke some of the emotions involved in love, it just means that the limited performance in some categories effects what types of love a brand can possibly create.

The green area represents an approximation of a brand's possible positions within Sternberg's love model, based on the ability to evoke primary components from the consumer. It is admittedly,a very rough estimation. 

     Analyzing the three primary components, it becomes evident that brands can most primarily evoke "commitment" from an individual. By delivering value on a consistent basis, a necessary part of facilitating relationship development, a brand naturally develops commitment over time. "Intimacy", as Sternberg defined it, entails feelings of connectedness and bonding. While a brand or product can't achieve such feelings with a person the way another individual can, through marketing communications tools, a bond can be established between a brand image (and its stated values) and a consumer. "Passion" as Sternberg utilized it, entailed physical and sexual attraction and romance.While traditional elements of "passion" are possible for a brand to achieve, such as in the relationship between a luxury car and a auto enthusiast, the brand's inherent limitations keep it from achieving deeper levels of such.

      By generalizing a brand's performance in evoking the three core components of Sternberg's love, it becomes evident that out of the 7 types of love possible in interpersonal relationships, the consumer-brand relationship is assumed to achieve 4 of them (as shown above). The ability to create any of the 4 possible types of love with the consumer depends on a variety of factors, such as product, price and buying context.

Does a sports car evoke the same type of possible consumer love as a can of beans?
        If we follow the heavily generalized model created above, then it stands to reason that different categories of products can achieve different types of consumer relationships based on their inherent properties. A sports car may evoke passion in the consumer in a way that a can of beans wouldn't (barring the power of the bean lover's lobby)

A grid showing examples of the different categories of Consumer Involvement Theory (Laurent & Kapferer, 1985)

         In analyzing different products, Consumer Involvement Theory (CIT) can provide some distinctions between product classifications that will be useful in detailing the different types of love possible. CIT divides products across two axis, High/Low involvement (the amount of importance or effort allocated to a product) and Rational/Emotional decision basis (the context in which the product was evaluated). As shown in the above example, the matrix generated by CIT allows for products to be classified on a range varying from high end luxury items to routine FMCG purchases.

Approximating the location of examples of the 4 CIT categories on the Sternberg triangle shows how different products may interact with the consumer in affinity based relationships.

        Subsequently, approximating the position of CIT category examples on the branded section of the Sternberg triangle illustrates how different product categories form differing types affinities with the consumer.  

Low involvement/emotional purchases such as a music cd or other quick impulse purchases are rooted firmly in a passionate type of affinity. Forming such a relationship with the consumer may prove difficult for such products however, as the proximity and trust needed to work through the consumer relationship model to continuation aren't normally found in quick decision purchases. This lack of commitment is also found after affinity is formed, due to the fleeting nature of low involvement emotional purchase enjoyment.
Type of affinity evoked: Infatuation

Low involvement/rational purchases such as routine FMCG goods like a preferred breakfast cereal or cola hold a commitment of affinity with the consumer due to their extended relationship. The products in this category have delivered value to continue the relationship, but have failed to evoke passion from the consumer.
Type of affinity evoked: Empty Love

High involvement/ rational purchases such as Financial services are rooted in a high commitment, low passion type affinity with the consumer. The high involvement factor of products such as life insurance, mean that a commitment can be fostered through the consumer relationship, but that emotional elements are largely avoided within the product interaction. Products such as this also possess the possibility of forming a partnership type relationship with the consumer, increasing "intimacy" and allowing for the brand to take on a collaborative role.
Type of affinity evoked: Companionate Love

High involvement/emotional purchases such as a luxury sports car are primarily rooted in the passionate/emotional nature of the purchase. Interestingly though, this product category, much like High involvement/rational purchases, can build commitment or intimacy with the consumer though shared experiences and routinized use.
Type of affinity evoked: Infatuation or Fatuous Love

     Of course, these example classifications aren't static in their positioning within the Sternberg model. Approximate locations can move based on specific consumer perceptions, effectiveness of marketing communications and the overall performance of the product.

How can Marketing Communications tools shape the development of the consumer relationship?
       Since product positions within the Sternberg model of love aren't entirely static, the role of marketing communications tools extends beyond the basic consumer relationship model and has implications within shaping affinity types as well.

        Within the consumer decision model, marketing communications helps to shape favorable consumer perceptions of the product's value and ensure repeat purchase. During problem recognition, mar-comms helps to encourage consumers that a need is present and that such a desire is valid. Tools such as Advertising, DM & PR are useful during the information search & evaluation of alternatives through informing consumers of product features & promotions. Further, Sales promotions and DM can be utilized through the evaluation of alternatives and purchase to increase the value perception of a product. Finally, marketing communications efforts in the post purchase stage are utilized to reduce cognitive dissonance and convince the consumer the correct purchase was made (and should be repeated).

       Beyond this basic consumer journey however, marketing communications plays a role in the evolution of the consumer relationship. While its primary capacity is to aid in the consumer value perception, which continues the relationship, it also helps in aiding proximity. As was demonstrated earlier in the Levinger model, proximity plays a large role in the development of interpersonal relationships. Within the modified consumer model, product awareness plays the largest role in a consumer's search for information and evaluation of alternatives, which allows the brand to stay within a consumer's consideration set. In addition to this however, maintenance of product awareness between purchasing cycles may function in the same capacity as proximity for interpersonal relationships, helping to further along the development cycle of the relationship.

     Within Sternberg's model, marketing communications tools help products and brands to achieve capacity greater than that allowed by the product's characteristics. Once a brand has managed to reach a continuation within the consumer relationship, the product's general classification and characteristics should dictate what type of affinity develops. Marketing communication efforts can help to extend the position of the brand in the consumer relationship by increasing commitment from something initially classified as an impulse purchase or attempt to give passion to a routine FMCG relationship.

      For example, through mascot based advertising a breakfast food brand aims to add depth to a routine purchase decision by putting a personalized face on the brand interaction. Alternatively, a luxury car company may offer after purchase extras (i.e. free maintenance) to minimize dissonance about the purchase and create commitment in the relationship.

Not all mascots humanize the brand as much as others...but there's no denying Domo-kun's magnetic personality - Who wouldn't want to be on this guy's good side...


        In response to the initial question of this thought piece, it seems that brands can evoke "love" from a consumer. However, as shown above, the types of love a brand can generate in the generalized consumer relationship are incomplete in comparison to love in an interpersonal relationship. Such a conclusion seems to be common sense, as brands will eternally be handicapped by their avenues of communication and personal assets. A milk brand may, with time, develop to be a comforting breakfast time partner, but it won't develop into any other dimensions, either emotionally or in different aspects of the consumer's life.

        When looking at the similarities between brand and interpersonal relationships, it becomes evident that personal perception, continued communication and the delivery of value are key in any type of relationship. Just as avenues of communication, personal attraction and emotional value are key in developing a relationship with another person, proper marketing communications, a favorable brand image and key value delivery are necessary to foster a proper brand relationship. By analyzing the type of relationship a brand hopes to form with a consumer (i.e. functional vs. more complex) and rationalizing what emotional and involvement the product is capable of, marketers can hope to coordinate a strategy that forms the optimum type of affinity based relationship with the consumer.

        Paying for love jokes aside, it becomes evident that in any type of relationship, continued interest, perception of a partner's emotional/intellectual position and effort are necessary for go message Aleksandr Orlov on Twitter before he gets all upset again.

Suggested Reading:
Sternberg, Robert J. (1988). The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment
Curtis P. Haugtvedt, Paul Herr, Frank R. Kardes (2008). Handbook of Consumer Psychology
Dwyer, Diana (2000). Interpersonal Relationships

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Does Corporate Involvement Change Online Games?

      Last night I attended the RSA's "Design & Society: Gaming the City" talk, which held some amazing points about the nature of games overall, their future, history and the implications of their use in our society. Perhaps one of the most interesting points brought up during the lecture (which is available online here), was about the nature of the gaming experience when it relates to stated functionally and subsequently companies.

      The example used was about an on-line game, ESP (Requires registration), which allowed two anonymously paired players to attempt to describe an image placed infront of them. Without being able to communicate in any way with the other user, the players attempt to describe the image using the same terms. Points are subsequently awarded for using identical terms to describe the presented image. As the game was being described by the speaker, one could see how he and others enjoyed the spontaneous synchronicity of the game's experience.

       The point in presenting this game within the lecture however, wasn't specifically about the game's experience, but on factors that impacted it as the site developed. The underlying purpose of the game wasn't only entertainment, but to instead create a "Mechanical Turk" type device that crowd sources image recognition. The frequency of terms used by players allowed for the generation of meta data identifying what the picture was, something computer's can't reliably do. At this point, one can say that the game's experience isn't changed by an implicit benefit from playing it, but instead allows for added value to the overall experience (out of those that are aware of it's functional capacity).

Great as an image labeler, horrible as a chat room.....

       The development of ESP led to a Google version (aptly named) "Google Image Labeler" which, unlike ESP clearly states not only a corporate involvement, but also an explicit function of playing the game. Last night's presented argument stated that in changing from ESP to Google's version, something was lost from the overall experience and in this case, I tend to agree.

       Such an argument brings up an interesting question,"Aside from underlying functionality implications, how does corporate involvement fundamentally change the gaming experience?" Further, how do developers and marketers strike a balance between branding/involvement and the user experience?

This game is like agriculture based intellectual crack....

       When talking about such an issue with a few folks after the lecture, I found myself referencing the issue around the example of Farmville on Facebook. Facebook games are by themselves an interesting category, due to the fact that they exist as social and entertainment entities. Almost all gaming experiences based on the Facebook application platform gain atleast some of their value by rooting the gaming experience in sharing with friends. Farmville is no exception, as the virtual farming game allows users to move friends in as neighbors, tend to their farms, gift each other and assist in growing crops. Without the help of others, the game becomes a slow and repetitive experience (though personally, even with friends I view it in slightly the same way).

       With respect to the ESP example from earlier, I think that should I find out that Farmville was a secretive crowd sourcing tool to discern crop growth patterns, it wouldn't affect my user experience in many ways (though my thoughts on the state of actual farming would be shattered). However, what effect would explicit corporate involvement do to my hypothetical experience?

       If Farmville renamed itself "Tesco's Produce Aisle presents Farmville", I'd like to think I wouldn't mind, but I do believe that some hardcore players would be alienated. Contrary to this, the game's currently established currency system allows for players to gain special currency by filling out surveys or signing up for trials, something that seems much more corporate, but I accepted easily (though I never did it). While the current system put in place by games such as Farmville, which game maker Zynga seems to favor despite throughout its portfolio, explicitly ties business interests into the gaming platform, I never noticed because it was optional and it was there when I started.

This is an example of a piece of clothing that can't even be worn for irony....yet

      I think in such an example we find the crux of how corporate involvement can fit into online game development. I'd like to believe that corporate/business interests need to be upfront about their involvement in games (something that successful promotion seems to require), but it seems that proper integration into the game is much more important. Allowing players to function autonomously of the game's business aspects allows users to choose whether or not to interact with the brand's interests. Corporate promotions that follow such a maxim may be promotional without being garish, a possible reason why I don't mind paid aspects of Farmville, but at the same time slightly (very slightly) recoil at an explicitly Tesco titled version.

     Perhaps the other factor that controls successful involvement from the above example, is the establishment of involvement early on. As"Google Image Labeler" was clearly a derivative of ESP, user's had an expectation about the level of business/corporate involvement developed from their earlier gaming experience. With Farmville, atleast from a personal view point, I formed my expectation of the gaming experience with business/corporate interests present and therefore habituated to them quickly and without much notice.

     If a game is presented in such a way that marketing/business interests aren't overpowering, that the gaming experience can function in an unimpeded manner and if user's expectations allow it, corporate involvement and marketing interests can fit within some types of online games efficiently.

Of course, my example above is rather limited and based on personal views, leave some comments about your thoughts on the issue.

*I'd also like to point out that while I did play Farmville, I successfully extricated myself from its flash based veggie claws, something my lunch hour has thanked me for.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Social Media Thunderdome - Flickr vs. Zooomr

For Part I (Introduction), Part II (Media Bracket) & Part III (The Criteria) click the links.For a recap of Round 1 of the Microblogging sites, click here.
Traffic (Alexa Ranking):

Alexa’s Global 3 Month Reach Increase/Decrease:
+6.2% to a global monthly average of 2.196% of internet users
+.02% to a global monthly average of .0063% of internet users
US/UK Traffic Ranking
Largest National Traffic Source:
32.4% - UK
20.8% - US


Yahoo! - Santa Clara, California


Upload, Download, Syndication, Authorization & Groups Capable
Upload, Download, Syndication, Authorization & Groups Capable

Mobile Usage Options:
Mobile site, third pary and app integration, phone access

Mobile site, phone access

None present on interface
None Present on interface

          Photosharing sites occupy an intresting position in today's internet landscape. Whereas before the ubiquity of Facebook and Myspace, these sites represented the best option for posting photos to share. However, as long as mutli-content hosting networks offer features like Facebook's photo albums, one has to wonder if user's truly want to store content in one place and interact with users in another. The challenge facing photosharing sites is how to add value against offerings which aggregate much more content to a defined set of the user's friends.

         This isn't to say that exclusive photo/video hosting sites don't have a place, as they definitely do. Users who want a repository of content without the hassle of moving their collections from possibly fleeting social network to social network will welcome an external option to store content. Further, especially in the case of video/photography buffs, a network built solely around sharing photo or video content can take on its own networking appeal, in the context of shared values and information between users. One lingering question to these possibilities however, is that as mobile devices allow content to be uploaded simultaneously to blogs and networks, do the majority of users value photographic quality over instentaneous distribution?

I refuse to believe that normal photographers are able to take Filckr front page quality photos all the time

        Flickr represents (in most people's minds) the pre-eminent site for photo distribution outside of social networks. Having been established in 2003, it rose to prominence during the growth of social networking and has held a variety of positions with respect to dominant networks. Flickr has attempted to keep relevant with various technological trends by offering features beyond photosharing, such as geo-tagging, video, comment tagging, photo export to various products and attempted integration to other networks, all with varying degrees of success.

        While features such as geo and comment tagging are almost required now by users, Flickr's adding of video is perhaps the most telling about their network position and orientation. Like Youtube, regular and HD video uploads are allowed (to a length of 90 seconds), however, unlike other video sharing sites, only "Pro" or paid accounts are allowed to view in HD. Flickr, and subsequently their owner Yahoo!'s, addition of video belies an interesting orientation by the company against staying solely in their traditional photosharing capacity and diversifying out into other content to survive. What's worrying however, is that video sites will indefinitely do video sharing better than Flickr (and without paid accounts). If video can't function as a draw for Flickr, then is the traditional photo fare enough for most users?

The iPhone & iPhone 3GS seem to have cannibalized each other, but the Cannon vs. iPhone split shows some of the underlying trends for photosharing sites

       In assesing the value of solely Flickr's photosharing functionality, we come back to the introductory question of Flickr's stance in the juxtaposition of quality photography vs. instentaneous upload. User data from the site shows that the Apple iPhone holds a prominent position as one of the most popular platforms, showing that mobile uploads hold a place within the network's ethos. However, one has to assume that "quality" (i.e. traditional camera taken, edited and uploaded) may still play a larger part in the network's activity, based on the variety of other prominent cameras.

Zooomr's interface is a departure from the slightly more polished (yet some would argue corporate) interface of Flickr

      Compared to Flickr, at first glance, Zooomr seems slightly less polished. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as the site was first set up to allow the creator to share photos with friends in Japan and the interface manifests itself in a highly idiosyncratic and personalized yet functional way. Its zipline login page allows you to see a stream of user activity and its added features that seem to indicate aspirations in microblogging and geolocation functionality. These features do denote the possiblity that as a hub of socialization and content sharing between existing friends, Zooomr is a positive option. Furthermore, Zooomr's focus on gloablization, something that becomes evident when reading about its expanding localization options, presents the possibility that it hopes to grab user share in a variety of markets that may feel underserved by Flickr.

     Contrasting these possibilties with the overall experience of using the site however, seems to be a different story. I won't begrudge anyone for creating a network based on personal tastes and needs, but Zooomr, at least on a personal level, felt less standardized in its user experience than other sites. The array of possible features and content seemed scattered and I feel that even after having a play around with it, I'm still missing a variety of options that should be evident. Of course, Zooomr has a basic functionality that is evident and comparable to Flickr, but it doesn't seem to differentiate itself in any strong manner. Doing some Googling about Zooomr, I was able to discover that in 2005-2007, an array of interesting features were rolled out with many of them being changed or removed by the time I've reached it.

     Going back to the initial question of mobile vs. quality photography, I can't seem to get a position for Zooomr. It seems that the service allows for a distribution of photos that would help to foster a quality photography community, but the interface seems to be a sticking point for such a development. Further, I'm not really clear on its array of photo upload options readily available, so its hard to discern focus.

     With respect to Zooomr vs. Flickr, if we were to declare one as having a greater capacity for being a prominent force in social media, it becomes clear that Flickr's current prominence and design creates a superior position relative to a plucky and idiosyncratic Zooomr. Overall, the question for future rounds becomes not whether Flickr can survive a direct photosharing competitor with similar features, but whether it can survive changing consumer tastes, mobile proliferation and the prominence of the all in one social network and media repository.


Friday, 16 October 2009

Mindshare Twitter Research

    I've been waiting to put this up for a while as we've been conducting some network and user analysis for the course of this year. As you can probably tell from the previous (4 part epic tome) on brand analysis on Twitter, I and 3 other great people at Mindshare (@acotterill,@JezP76 & @picolim) conducted qualitative research on Twitter  users and quantitative research (through a bespoke analytics engine I'm still very proud of) on Twitter user behavior and WOM pass-on rates. Our analysis yielded some interesting facts on how users utilize Twitter, through what platform they do and how messages travel through networks.

     I plan on writing a bit more about the research and its implications later on; but for now, check out below and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Tweet it your way? Twitter's Capacity for Consumer Sentiment Measurement - Part IV

Research Conclusions
   In the previous two parts of our Twitter Consumer Sentiment analysis series (II & III), we aggregated and analyzed data relating to mentions of Burger King on the social network/microblogging site. When we consider these parts as a whole, insights are produced in one of three areas.

     Overall Twitter Performance:
           Without comparing Burger King with other companies within the sector (which would generate our share of activity for the UK), the company's Twitter activity is shown to be less than purely reactive to media or campaign events. As can be assumed with others within the sector, while some consumer opinions and experiences are stated, most messages are posted mentioning BK as a destination or location. Exceptions to this trend include certain rumors or news items which reasonate with the younger target demographic of the firm. Assuming the rest of the sector performs in the same manner on Twitter, opportunities for general performance increases exist through simple Twitter based campaigns. An audience sporadically tweets about the company and therefore the opportunity does stand to transition these sporadic 'experiential' conversations into a longer, more robust one through promotions ranging from simple (hashtag based contests or promotions) to complex (multi-step campaigns tied into a brand page).

      Geographic and Chronological Performance
            Analyzing mentions of the firm by geographic UK region yielded similar results to the overall distribution for network usage. London reigns large in most geographic analysis of the UK and requires a much more granular analysis to get insights for comparably smaller areas. For Twitter based communications and promotions, this signals that the current trend of London based campaigns should continue specifically for the firm. The prominence of the catchment area in our results (users mentioning the brand outside of a specific radius of a metro. area) could signal the possibility of future possibilities outside of London, but a large amount of activity can be described as commuters or non-specific location coding.
              Chronologically, our hourly data and user analysis of dining mentions (i.e. Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner) showed that lunchtime activity was highest for the brand, both in content and volume. This, by itself, doesn't indicate much, but it might begin to hint at the brand's image as a lunchtime destination for network users.

        User Behaviors
             User and platform data yielded perhaps the most concrete insights of our analysis. Platform data highlighted the fragmented usage context for Twitter, something that is matched by overall network data. Burger King was shown to be mentioned on the go, at a desktop and everywhere inbetween. Data also demonstrated that users weren't likely to mention the brand frequently, another consequence of brand mentions being a product of experiential tweeting. User mention frequency was demonstrated to have little or no effect on when or what a user tweeted about when talking about Burger King, but an overall patten of traction was found for product launches or advertising campaigns.

        As we can see from the example analysis, a majority of the insights gathered from Twitter search are more topline than detailed. For getting a quick feel for the performance or promenance of a brand on Twitter, such an analysis may prove rather useful, however, further analysis or supporting data is required to produce detailed observations. Network analysis of user segments or a brand page could serve to deepen the insights produced from Twitter.

      Perhaps the most important thing missing from the current analysis is the examination of consumer opinions for sentiment. While we manually did this in our user analysis section, available online automated solutions for such are still in the rudementary phases. By scanning for key words or terms, various websites and programs attempt to classify messages as "Happy/Sad", "Good/Bad". While there is an inherent value in knowing the amounts of good vs. bad messages about a brand, the intricacies of why these messages were classified as such, as well as errors that can stem from semantic differences in wording, are still necessary considerations when thinking about automated analysis. Overall, without utilizing automated sentiment analysis (or doing a lengthy manual analysis), data should be examined from the top down, establishing points of interest or behaviors that warrant more attention. These can serve as starting points to segment users for analysis, cutting the work load involved.

        On the whole, the usefulness of utilizing Twitter search to measure customer sentiment is highly dependent on the company, the sector and the product. Search analysis shouldn't be viewed as the end point of generating consumer insight, but the beginning of seeing where your brand sits within user's minds and the network. From a completed analysis, a company can consider promotions, brand page(s) or adjusting online activities to raise prominence or conversation levels.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Tweet it your way? Twitter's Capacity for Consumer Sentiment Measurement - Part III

     Carrying on from our general analysis of Burger King's UK twitter messaging in Part II, we can move on to specifically examining detailed user data and behavior. General messaging volumes indicated that certain events spiked Twitter activity, but this effect was enhanced by events that resonated with the target market for the brand. In order to fully understand this interaction, we can examine general geographic and behavioral patterns before moving onto specific user behaviors.

     Moving from our general analysis measures, Twitter activity data can be cut by geographic or chronological layers. Analyzing Twitter data by time (as shown below), creates a pattern of usage similar to other social networks or general internet usage. Usage data does diverge from existing patterns around 11am to 1 pm, as usage peaks that would generally increase, peak earlier in the day than with overall UK internet usage. Analyzing messages between 11 and 1, there is a distinct trend of experiential messages involving going to Burger King for lunch or returning from Burger King after lunch.

      Geographically, mention data is limited by the methodology of the search. Geographic searches can be conducted two differing ways: manually through the interface (which allows for searching by mentioning of towns or other locations) or through the API (which limits searching to by geocode and radius). Being that our data was taken by geocode, each area analyzed within the UK was gathered by determining the coordinates for the center of a metropolitan area and then the radius of that body. In order to determine the entirety of the UK, a catchment area was set up encompassing the entire UK, with duplicate messages stripped out later on between all the areas.

     Analyzing the data for Burger King by geography (shown below) we see that the data mirrors the overall distribution of UK Twitter activity pretty closely. London, named the metropolitan hotbed of Twitter activity worldwide, dominates other specific geographic areas. The catchment area proves to be the largest area of activity, due to ambiguous location entries or commuter users being counted in this category. Geographic data doesn't yield as many useful insights in this example as it might in more geographically sensitive examples such as monitoring of political bodies within voter districts or global monitoring of a term by country.

     Analyzing data by platform can help to generate insight on variety of usage (i.e. mobile vs. static), preferred client (i.e. Tweetdeck vs. Twitterrific) or context for messaging (i.e. about something going on simultaneously or later). Previous research has shown that, as a whole, more than half of UK twitter messages are sent from either mobile or hybrid third party clients (meaning less than half of Twitter messages are posted through Twitter users mentioning Burger King mirror increase on the trend of based Twitter usage, as only 32% of mentions came from the "web" platform (which represents site usage). The following four platforms (2 mobile platforms and 2 hybrid (desktop/mobile) options) account for more usage than The overall fragmentation of usage (170 different platforms register at least one Burger King mention) means that users are talking about the brand through a variety of avenues, both on the go (leading to the possibility of in-store tweeting) and at home. Furthermore, future marketing on Twitter for Burger King, including possible sponsorships, should take into account not only Twitter itself, but this variety of 3rd party clients and platforms.

     Analyzing rate of user mentions, we find that 12.3% mentioned Burger King more than once. The distribution (shown below) indicates that while the overwhelming majority mentions Burger King once (showing that most users don't mention every time they interact with the brand), there are users who have exhibited an ongoing conversation. While all brands want to extend consumer awareness, its essential to mention that some brands won't be successful in generating positive commentary from consumer on Twitter, regardless of their efforts. While people may sporadically mention their detergent on Twitter in passing, spawning widespread and frequent mentions of such may prove nearly impossible, due to the nature of the product. 

      In order to discern what actually drove such high mentions for the brand from certain users, we can specifically analyze the tweet's contents and properties from those users. Comparing users who tweeted more than once and the overall tweet distribution shows that no obvious difference between frequently mentioning users and the overall user base exists.

    While the time series hasn't explained why some users have mentioned the brand more than others, specific analysis of tweet content sheds more light on the situation. First, examining the users who mentioned the brand more than 6 times, showed that the group comprises of both normal users (either conversing about Burger King or joking about it frequently) and functional/brand pages (mentioning specials about surrounding businesses or hosting quizzes for users that may mention the brand). One example of functional users mentioning BK is @Manairport (The Manchester Airport), which tweeted about "2-4-1 Burger King Angus Burgers with a VAT booklet" at the airport. Looking at the high frequency normal users, we can search for product mentions (Chicken Royale comes up a few times) or discern opinions (One user stated that in Worchester, he would travel to Burger King for the burger and then go to McDonald's for the fries - something I might try).

     As we move down the frequency distribution to 2-5 mentions, our analyzed sample size grows greatly and shows an increasing trend towards experiential tweets (43% are estimated to contain terms relating to going to, being at or leaving a Burger King). Analyzing the tweets by word frequency, it becomes evident that mildly moderate mentioning users infrequently compare Burger King with McDonald's (only 7% of this segments messages mention the competitor and 4% mention KFC), preferring instead to mention products (an estimated 46% mention the product either indirectly ("food") or directly ("Whopper")). Scanning the messages manually shows that users have commented on campaigns and products such as the "Angry Whopper" favorably.
      When we compare the tweet content from our moderate mentions segment with that of the overall sample,  37% of messages are estimated to contain an experiential term, down from our moderate sample. Product mentions also maintain a low frequency, as overall McDonald's is mentioned in 5.4% of messages and KFC in 4%. Messages mentioning "breakfast" (1.76% overall), "lunch" (4.2%) or "dinner" (1.55%) showed a progression in frequency similar to the hourly activity distribution, peaking midday.

     From this point  in an actual analysis, it would be possible to drill down the data to individual users based on terms used and then continue through their network identifying individual behaviors or opinions. Furthermore, user segment data could be contrasted against activities, such as we did above, to indicate how users with certain predispositions viewed campaign activity or stories. These activities can lead to possible outreach of individual users for advocacy or more detailed information, as well as identifying possible "influence leaders" for further analysis or activities.

     Tomorrow, we'll finish the consumer sentiment series by drawing some conclusions from our aggregated data and insights, as well as identify strong points and short comings of the process as it currently exists and in the future.