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.