16 November 2007

Return on influence: metrics and measurement for brands in social media.

One of the emerging dynamics of social media is the compelling need for companies and organisations interested in tracking their brand, positioning, reputation and saliency within this space is to have some way of measuring return on both investment and influence.

Many organisations want to be able to measure their involvement or even assess potential returns prior to investment but are slowly coming to the realisation that traditional web-based analytics alone are not going to do the job, so the next question is crucial – what and how should be measured?

The crux of the issue is that regardless of the success of brand monitoring companies like Neilsen BuzzMetrics and TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony, at this point in history their work is both highly speculative and also completely unique to the interpretation of the entity doing the measuring.

While the ability to track the tone, perception and nuances of discussions around a company and its brands, either via social media or even within it, cannot be achieved through web metrics or traditional advertisement measurement alone, the real problem is that even among the eight or so market leaders Forrester Research identified last year, there is no universally agreed standard upon which to base either measurement and metrics.

Certainly, the measurement attributes identified by Factiva, one of the vendors included in the Forrester study, could likely be considered to be part of any brand monitoring mix but this mix is also likely to be far more dynamic than anticipated.

Last year Factiva tried to get an understanding of the prevailing thinking, hosting a roundtable of influential bloggers and social media critics which identified the following measurement attributes (I've left out explanations of those that need no explanation):

1. Analytics and activity

2. Community activation/call to action

3. The "Conversation Index", define as the ratio between blog posts and comments-plus-trackbacks. This attribute is one subset of measuring participation and engagement but when I look at the majority of external corporate blogs alongside trackbacks and comments even in our brand sector, the actual ratio is low.

4. Demographic/s

5. Influential ideas or memes which the "intensity" or "velocity" of the spread of an idea or message over time. (A "meme" refers to an idea or discussion that grows and spreads from individual to individual into a lengthy chain of commentary. Rather like an idea train.)

6. Participation and engagement, where a recipient not only responds to a message but acts on it as well.

7. Reach, where it’s a lot less to do with sheer numbers than with influence.

8. Relationships and connections. For example, Factiva’s panel noted that a blogger may have a large, diverse audience but he or she may not have an intimate relationship with specific influential individuals within any given community.

9. Relevance, the question being how relevant to my company is a particular blog post among hundreds of a given meme?

10. Sentiment/tone/favourability

11. Content: the focus of coverage of social media. In most cases, this means a narrow, but extremely detailed focus on one subject or issue and it explains the importance of certain blogs over others within their respective niches.

Factiva’s panel concluded that to be successful companies need to use a combination of several key measurement attributes to understand and drive their own social media success for internal and external stakeholders.

Brand monitoring companies need to be able to help clients develop and execute plans which monitor and measure these changing attributes within a specific context and within a sphere of operations. Brand agencies then need to able to be bipartisan and develop strategy that acknowledges both measurement and metrics are dynamic and that a company's ability to identify those key attributes important to it might actually be limited. Setting these against a wider brand context and against other metrics might be another way of helping to define their brand influence.

07 November 2007

Can Facebook get social advertising right?

Facebook is ratcheting up social commerce and wants to turn every member into a promoter for advertisers.

The New York Times reported overnight that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the site would now feature what it describes as “social ads.”

On September 24 the company filed in the US to protect the trademark “SocialAds” in relation to “advertising and information distribution services, namely, providing advertising space via the global computer network”.

The new feature will be included in the news feed section of individual profiles and will enable advertisers to create their own profile pages and that will will let users identify themselves as fans of a particular product or service. For example, it might be that I might identify myself with Apple and so a newsfeed would be produced that says "Stephen Byrne is a fan of Apple". This message may also be featured in banner advertising which may include my picture or in single line text advertising that often runs as you load applications.

Facebook says it will initially offer social ads to advertisers for free but would continue to charge for banner advertising which could run with the endorsements.

“Nothing influences a person more than the recommendation of a trusted friend,” said Zuckerberg.

Facebook is also going allow advertisers to tap into the vast stores of data that its users provide, allowing advertisers to target users along geo, socio, demographic and psychographic.

In Australia Facebook has just over 1 million users (I checked) and is growing fast. Zukerberg was quoted as claiming it had 50 million global users with 25 million users visiting Facebook each day. It loads 65 billion pages on which advertisements can be displayed each month.

Zuckerberg is short on any projected ROI or effective measures of both the existing advertising and the proposed social ads but on the back of the recent $240m Microsoft investment, it's a direct threat to Google's highly successful AdSense network and surely competitor MySpace won't be far behind in developing a similar offer.

What's clear is that, as I noted in the previous DIFFUSIOBlog Intrusion vs seclusion, the move represents a new phase in the development of social exchanges. It will be interesting to see whether Facebook users will embrace it or whether it will be shunned.

05 November 2007

Intrusion vs seclusion: some reasons why direct marketing is failing online.

Direct marketing is failing online because brand owners, marketers and their agencies are relying on old forms of marketing, according to the latest Harvard Business School research.

The paper, entitled Digital Interactivity: Unanticipated Consequences for Markets, Marketing, and Consumers, released last month by Harvard Professor John Deighton and a Vancouver Research centre director Leora Kornfield argues that the much anticipated transformation opportunity in marketing created by digital interactivity is not unfolding along the lines of a traditional model of direct marketing.

Research like this is the elephant in the room for digital and advertising agencies and their clients, who continue to cling to the dated notion that consumers (of all kinds) really do look at this stuff and believe that digital based direct marketing is both cost effective and really has a demonstrable ROI.

Deighton and Kornfield argue that under the old model digital media would use the rich profiling data it gathers to create more penetrative marketing messages which would go more deeply and more precisely into consumer lives than broadcast media had been able to do.

Instead, they claim the threatened intrusion is actually delivering seclusion.

“The transformation is unfolding on a model of consumer collaboration, in which consumers use digital media that lie beyond the control of marketers to communicate among one another, responding to marketing's intrusions by disseminating counterargument, information sharing, rebuttal, parody, reproach and ... fandom” (they might be meaning Apple here or eBay’s newly created Neighbourhoods), Deighton and Kornfield said.

They describe marketers in peer-to-peer environments as an ”interloper, more talked-about than talking” and that marketing, against an old definition, may now be less a matter of domination and control, and more a matter of “fitting in.”

The article identifies five discreet roles for interactive technology:

1. Thought tracing: which is typically what Google does, and which allows advertising to be served on the basis of user's search terms and patterns of usage.
2. Ubiquitous connectivity: the notion of always on and connected especially with the increasing penetration and speeds of broadband alongside mobile phone usage. Microblogging via sites like Twitter is a good example and there are huge opportunities for marketers to exploit ideas around “attention banking”.
3. Property exchanges: in their ideal form best represented by the late lamented phenomenon of Napster and file sharing. More market acceptability of this has been built by eBay, Flickr and Youtube.
4. Social exchange: Deighton and Kornfield cite South Korea’s Cyworld, where 40% of all South Koreans maintain a presence and where 90% are in their 20s, generating $100 million in revenues each year (Wikipedia 2007). They identity the explosion of Facebook and MySpace as more recent Western examples but question whether this phenomena will “change society and therefore markets as much as the automobile did”.
5. Cultural exchange: they describe marketing as a “cultural producer”, aspiring to be an author in the culture of its customers. Most importantly for marketing to play this role it needs to be “welcomed, not resisted. “

The paper concludes that while meaning-making still remains the central purpose of marketing communication, the shift from broadcasting to interaction within digital communities is moving the locus of control over meanings from marketer to consumer and rewarding more participatory, more sincere, and less directive marketing styles.

What matters for marketers, say Deighton and Kornfield, is that the form of interactivity most attractive is the one which can facilitate personal identity projects and contribute to the collective making of meaning. And within this context, digital based direct marketing as it currently stands – the use of email, spam, banners, interstitials, splash pages, microsites etc etc - makes a marginal contribution to our identity and the creation of meaning.

As it stands the research is qualitative and largely desk research and while it suggests a direction for direct marketing, it doesn’t back its assertions with any quantitative evidence, though there is plenty around (we remember the Australian Financial Review’s digital unit telling us that click through rates on banners on it’s marketing pages were a mere .01%).

Maybe the best way to view this paper is as further evidence that more traditional passive direct marketing is not working in the new fragmented digital world. The challenge is how to stay ahead and engage an increasingly antipathetic target market.

01 November 2007

Westfield tops global property brand charts.

Global property companies are increasingly acknowledging the value of their brand as a primary value driver.

Certainly DIFFUSION's experience working with companies Grosvenor and the Simon Property Group seems to demonstrate that building a brand centric culture will increasingly yield better bottom line results.

UK brand valuation company Brand Finance, acknowledged as one of the world's leading brand valuation companies, rated Australian property group Westfield at the top of its recent global property brand index report with a brand value of US$1.0bn (A$1.1b) alongside fellow Australians Stockland, the Goodman Group, GPT and Mirvac in its top 30.

According Brand Finance's estimates brand value contributes up to 3% of what they define as enterprise value (defined as the combined market value of the entity and debt of a business less cash and cash equivalents), and averages 1.6% of enterprise value. While it's report states this is low compared to heavily branded FMCG categories like Coca Cola, it describes the resulting brand values as "still highly material".

What's apparent with the index and in a sense explains the rise and rise of property brands like Westfield is that our perceptions are usually based on the brand's functional attributes - such as access and location. Something that Westfield has concentrated on with it's deliberate nodal location strategy (see map above). This is best illustrated by drawing from HG Well's War of the Worlds, which described how the Martian fighting machines would dominate an area by combining into a group. This is pretty much what Westfield does - visibility and dominance - and why the brand has proved so pernicious in the daily lives of people in Australia, New Zealand the US and soon the UK.

Interestingly, Brand Finance raises two questions I think companies like Westfield and other dominant property groups need to grasp:

1. What brand architecture will prove to be most effective in the future?
2. How can a coherent and effective brand message be communicated ?

As far as DIFFUSION is aware, none of these major property groups have a head of brand addressing these important issues, instead continuing to rely on their marketing and investor relations departments to be the sole determinants. The absence of a real brand strategy is palpable.

In a recent visit to Tokyo, DIFFUSION was struck by how its shopping malls had evolved to become much more experiential, with customer service emphasised at every touch point. Something that is mostly ignored by the majority of western mall owners, more content to wring as much income from both retailers and consumers through a turnstile mentality. Sure Westfield might have magazines and a valet service, but why do some of its suburban malls want to start charging for Sunday parking? Doesn't this run counter to functional attributes of the brand, like access.

It's a simple thing really. And I might add a third question:

3. What is the brand promise?

DIFFUSION hopes it will be seeing some answers at the mall soon.

Symbolic obsolescence defines this century.

The concept of symbolic obsolescence is so new that it has barely crept into our lexicon, but is already affecting brands and their consumption.

I could find some mention of the term in an a number of design journal articles dating back to 1994 and you will be able to do your own search of references, but I couldn't even find a dictionary definition.

So here's mine:

Symbolic obsolescence: the perception that something is obsolete (noun)

Symbolic obsolescence is not attached to planned or functional obsolescence, which is usually determined by the brand owner. However, it is likely that the brand owner can take some responsibility for its occurence because of the rapidity of continuous product or service rollouts. Often these are disguised as improvements but in many cases, the improvements are so minor or competitively mimic others. Symbolic obsolescence occurs because consumers perceive that their status as is either a group or individually is affected (usually seeking to elevate it) by not acquiring the product or service. In a effect it's a contemporary update on the old saying "keeping up with the joneses", something explored by English philosopher Alain de Botton in his book, Status Anxiety.

Symbolic obsolescence is already part of modern consumption. Whether it's the Titanium card, the newest credit card from American Express or in Apple's update to its hugely popular iPod range, the iPod Touch. Let me demonstrate what I mean by way of review.

Here's a review from popular blog Endgaget:

It's hard to argue that there isn't beauty in simplicity, especially when it comes to consumer electronics. But there's such thing as too simple -- and sometimes too simple can turn into crippled. Most of our complaints about the touch have to do with what it lacks -- not in general, but when compared its big brother, the iPhone. Had the iPod touch come out first, the lack of a hardware volume switch, integrated speaker, and all those apps might have been perfectly passable, but now the expectations have been set, and we can't see how taking things away from users can possibly add value. Everyone in this industry is trying to give their customers more, but with the iPod touch Apple gave its customers less in what should have been the best iPhone alternative on the market. This time around, in Apple's obsession to edit, they managed to leave some of the best stuff on the cutting room floor.

or this from Wall Street Journal tech critic Walt Mossberg:

Apple says the Touch was meant mainly to present typical iPod features, not to replicate the iPhone, and it included the Web browser only so users could get onto Wi-Fi to use the mobile music store in certain places that required a log-in screen.

But it seems ridiculous to me to sell a powerful device with Wi-Fi and a huge screen, and to leave out things like an email program, even though you can use Web-based email programs. I assume Apple was concerned that the less costly Touch might compete too much with the iPhone if it had these features. In fact, if somebody can jam a voice-over-Internet capability into the iPod Touch, it might be more of a threat to the iPhone, which is tethered to a single cellphone carrier, AT&T.

In Australia, where the iPhone is yet to released (strange decision from Apple but then again it's not even 3G), the release of the iPod Touch was seen as something we should hold our collective breath for. However, what seems clear from both these reviews is that the Touch is merely an interim lower storage device available in a lower price bracket to the iPhone, with a lot less of it's features. It plainly exhibits planned obsolescence as both reviews attest to.

However, as symbolic obsolescence it would be difficult to find a better example. In a year's time the coolhunter buyers of this year's Touch will be out buying their hopefully 3G iPhone (unless they brought in a hacked version from the US or Europe) and the touch will be relegated to eBay dustbin. Why? Because to have one and to display it, both among our peers and to society, defines us.

Just as Moore's Law helped define the inevitable rise and rise of technology at the end of last century, symbolic obsolescence will significantly influence almost all brand owners and our pattern of consumption of brands this century.