Thursday, October 8, 2009

Talking about a brand revolution

Written by John Sintras for and published in 08.10.09

Digital and social media continue to change everything from consumer behaviour to marketing communications. For anyone still unsure of the impact of the social media tsunami, look no further than than Vegemite’s latest product launch, the curiously named iSnack 2.0.

Within days of announcing the name, the consumer backlash over the Internet in the form of blogs, video clips, Twitter and Facebook protest groups, was sufficient to convince Kraft to publicly admit that they got it wrong. Isn’t it ironic that a name selected to appeal to a younger, digital savvy generation has been condemned using digital media itself?

People do care about brands, and when marketers tamper with iconic brands that are loved by multiple generations, they must do so with extreme care and ideally with public consultation and buy-in.

What is particularly sobering about this example, is the speed of both the public outrage and the marketer’s reaction. The old days of waiting months for consumer feedback and sales data are behind us. Digital media is allowing consumers to have their say, with mass scale, at a frighteningly fast pace.

Interestingly, Kraft has already announced it will ask consumers to help select the new name, so it might end happily after all. Or perhaps it was all a deviously clever scheme to get people involved all along?

It’s worth noting, however, that social media, or more importantly, word of mouth, has always been the most powerful medium in the world, and digital media only represents part of this broader communications opportunity.

The digital revolution doesn’t live in a vacuum, it lives in a human context. Successful technologies have satisfied fundamental human needs and desires – to be informed and empowered, to communicate with people more easily, more often. Digital and social media are going gangbusters because people love to talk, to be heard, to validate and give meaning to their existence.

But people have always loved to talk. Digital measurement, and social media specifically, is allowing us to be more aware of what people are talking about, and more specifically what they are saying about brands and advertising. But the reality is that most conversations about brands are not digital, but traditional. We know now that digital is just the tip of the word of mouth iceberg.

Starcom recently conducted Australia’s most comprehensive study into word of mouth (WOM) marketing, called Branded Conversations.. It utilised both qualitative and quantitative techniques to scope and understand what people are talking about and why, how they are talking, and what impact it is having on their intentions and actions across various marketing categories. The results reinforced the critical importance of ‘branded word of mouth’.

On average, 50 per cent of people are having two ‘branded conversations’ each week in each major marketing category. The results vary markedly by category – 79 per cent of people talked about TV programs, 62 per cent about movies, 56 per cent about supermarkets, 48 per cent about cars, and 35 per cent about skin care.

Digital (online and mobile) contacts represented only 10 per cent of these conversations, the majority (80 per cent) are happening face to face, with the remaining 10 per cent happening over a phone conversation.

Most of these conversations happen within people’s inner circle: family (33 per cent), close friends (32 per cent), spouse/partner (19 per cent) and co-workers (16 per cent).

Most of these branded conversations are positive, with 62 per cent of people saying they were likely to pass on positive word of mouth.

Surprisingly, most branded conversations are triggered by marketing and advertising activities, and the subsequent impact is significant, although it varies considerably by category.

Successful brands of the future must realise that word of mouth is not an un-plannable by-product of marketing activity, but something that needs to be at the core of marketing and media strategy – the dynamics for each category need to understood, and communications need to be designed to generate positive WOM. People talk about brands they love, and people love brands people talk about – they feed each other.

Marketers and agencies must realise that people are a media channel in their own right, and that we need to start taking advocacy far more seriously. Let people in, help them to help you create something. Start to think of people as a media channel and you end up doings things very differently.

People talk every day, so this means a far more nimble and flexible approach to communication – the old days of annual planning are becoming archaic and ineffective – we need to move to real time planning, activation and optimisation.

Those marketers who understand human relationships, and seize the word of mouth opportunity, will be the most successful brands in a complex future. Listen, influence and evolve is the new media mantra for successful brand and media communication.

Vegemite and cheese anyone?

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