26 August 2009

Enter at your own risk: the real value of social media-based brand engagement.

Let’s be straight. Brand engagement does have quantifiable financial benefits. Increasingly this type of engagement via social media also has quantifiable benefits, it’s just no one knows what exactly they are, yet. So while the latest and only social media study reluctantly admits this, real financial bottom line value is still only partially proven.

By any standard definition brand engagement is an emotional connection or attachment developed during repeated and continuing interactions with a brand. Over time this should accumulate through satisfaction, loyalty, influence and excitement and other factors. Organizations who engage customers to the point where they are moved to a behavioral change do so by creating opportunities for emotional connections through consistent and positive experiences. Social media seems an opportunity for some brands to develop such opportunities, albeit at least turn any negative ones into positive.

However, alongside other media and non-media forms, social media is and should be regarded as just one part of a suite of engagement channels for brands. So, for example, a brand’s appearance or lack of presence on Twitter or Facebook, might harm its perception or level of engagement, it’s just that it won’t hurt if the current levels of engagement are low. And regardless, for some industry sectors it purely demonstrates a rational and logical extension of their core business activity.

In July the WetPaint/Altimeter Group released its ENGAGEMENTdbReport aimed at measuring how deeply engaged the top 100 2008/9 global brands were in a variety of social media channels and, more importantly, understand if a higher engagement correlated with financial success. Unremarkably, the study understated one of the key defining aspects of these rankings – that the level of financial success generated by the brands had already put them a top 100 brand. A position not defined by some other event or cause like social media.

WetPaint/Altimeter claimed their study not only measured the level of engagement but also the depth. They evaluated and scored each brand’s engagement in various channels and found the more a brand leverages multiple channels, the higher the level of engagement is (seems to make sense!) Ranking Starbucks as the most engaged brand, with a presence across 11 social media-based channels, they also linked exponential growth in the depth of engagement with continued growth in the channel.

Not surprisingly, it also found engagement differs by industry and with media usage. So the most engaged industries are naturally Media and Technology and the least, Financial, Apparel and Food & Beverage. In addition, the study found distinct target audiences can influence the level of engagement eg. Toyota’s media channels used to promote Prius are different to those used by either Mercedes or Porsche, again this would simply represent segmented buyer behaviours.

But what interested me the most, despite all claims to the contrary, was that the study admitted NO ONE has the data to determine whether there is a direct cause and effect between financial performance and social media engagement. While it claims companies “deeply and widely engaged in social media surpass their peers in terms of both revenue and profit performance by a significant difference”, it also points out these findings don’t necessarily imply a causal relationship between these two but POWERFUL implications, whatever that might mean.

So while it comes as no surprise that one of the least connected brands at 98 was AIG, the world’s most successful brand Coca Cola is tagged as a wallflower and is down at no 51. Go figure the financial relationship there between brand and performance.

There’s nothing particularly revelatory in statements like “a customer oriented mindstep stemming from deep social interaction” generates superior profits thus enabling further engagement investment and a virtuous circle of increasing profits. But social media is, within the primacy of media, a marketing and communications tool for brand engagement in the same way point of sale, packaging, store design, direct mail are.

So how does the Wetpaint/ Altimeter study contribute to the dearth of research on the effectiveness of social media?
1. Social media engagement effectively enables direct and two way communication for the brand. This is new
2. Brand engagement can be better managed and measured via social media
3. The cost and revenues that accrue from this engagement can be directly measured and accounted for
4. Social media is purely digitally driven. Though the by products from which it is derived are not
5. Social media brand engagement is governed by levels of participation in the same way any other engagement is. Active, latent, pro-active etc
6. Social media enables deep and broad brand engagement
6. Digital brands aren’t necessarily social media brands but it doesn’t hurt they are

What the study also reveals is that social media enables brands via this form of agency to quantify the value of the brand engagement and subsequently contribute to brand valuation. The contribution of brand engagement to financial value is already factored in many valuation models but this partition of the contribution is something that can effectively stand alone. We are yet to see how that might happen and who might use this.

So while the WetPaint/Altimeter study contributes to our understanding regarding the level and extent of brand engagement via social media, there’s really not enough evidence here of a direct financial return is not surprising. Indeed page six of the Altimeter report confirms the link between social media engagement and financial performance is not proven. Unlike one of the often quoted quantitative models, the Harvard Business School’s Sears Model, which proves a direct correlation between internal employee brand engagement and financial return in the vicinity of around 20%. .

And another study conducted in June last year for Adobe (not ranked by Wetpaint/Altimeter) by Forrester Consulting developed another model and demonstrated a 66% return. This study examined the total economic impact and potential return on investment companies might realise by increasing investment in engagement initiatives, with an emphasis on using both existing and emerging technology touch points such as social media.

It wasn’t extensive research (200 companies surveyed and six in-depth interviews) but Forrester did use what it calls a Total Economic Impact (TEI) methodology to measure impact. TEI not only measures costs and cost reduction (areas that are typically accounted for within IT) but also weighs the enabling value of a technology in increasing the effectiveness of overall business processes such as customer communication.

Forrester found three main results – firstly, increasing investment in online customer engagement through Internet-based channels improved the efficiency and effectiveness of customer interactions and the customer experience. Secondly, improved efficiency translates to reduced overall cost of sale as well improved internal staff productivity (much like the Sears Model) and thirdly, like the Wetpaint/Altimeter study, improved effectiveness translates to improved top line revenues resulting from higher purchasing frequency and improved customer value. Overall, the value of the ROI around 66%.

However, while the study focused on Adobe products and their introduction as part of a wider technology strategy, it still confirmed one of the main but unproven conclusions from Wetpaint/Altimeter. Those organisations with higher financial returns were those that developed a deep connection with their customers using online channels such as social media, ultimately raising customer awareness and purchase intent. Just ask Dell about its oft cited Twitter experiment.

24 July 2009

In a turning bay: some questions on the future of brands in social media.

This is a conversation I had recently on the future of brands and social media with Jenni Beattie, Director at Digital Democracy, a Sydney based digital communications consultancy.

Stephen Byrne: I want to start with some work Forrester did in April last year when they outlined the five phases of the social web. They are:

1) Era of Social Relationships: People connect to others and share

2) Era of Social Functionality: Social networks become like operating system

3) Era of Social Colonization: Every experience can now be social

4) Era of Social Context: Personalized and accurate content

5) Era of Social Commerce: Communities define future products and service

Forrester study found that the technologies will trigger changes in consumer adoption, and brands will need to follow, resulting in these five distinct phases.

I don’t think technologies are going to be the only triggers for new consumer adoption. My view is that the marketing of brands as we know it in a state of flux. What we are seeing, to use a French phrase, is an “eventment”, where for example, social media and technology are combining to mitigate against many of the old marketing paradigms. You only have to look at what’s happening on the agency level.

Jenni Beattie: I believe the marketing of brands as we know it has fundamentally changed. Today consumers expect to have a say, be able to feedback and make a mark on a brand. This can be as simple as using review features on websites to user generated content such as naming a brand.

After spending time in digital market research, you can see how the social web is impacting that discipline. In the past it was very much a parent-child relationship with the researcher asking a very set question and the respondent answering. Today, more interactive forms of research such as online community research are taking place with a more ‘organic’ flow to the questioning i.e. the participants driving and forming part of the research. Good examples of innovative research can be seen from international companies such as Fresh Networks and PeanutLabs.

SB: In the final phase Forrester projects consumers will rely on their peers as they make online decisions, whether or not brands choose to participate. Socially connected consumers will strengthen communities and shift power away from brands and CRM systems; eventually this will result in empowered communities defining the next generation of products.

I’m not sure if I accept this phase. It’s like the worst effects of crowdsourcing and consensus politics. I don’t think we’re going to get an entirely technology driven brands, as Forrester’s analysis implies, but there is certainly some dramatic changes occurring with regards to consumer empowerment and in terms of brand preferences.

JB: There will be an increase in consumers defining products and services. Online branded communities created by Dell, Starbucks and P&G are already helping give customer feedback and in turn helping to define the future products and services.

A good international example of innovation and consumers defining brands was when The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) of the USA awarded Kettle Foods, Inc. one of the two 2008 Awards for Innovation and Creativity. Kettle Foods, Inc. won the award for its “People’s Choice” campaign. The campaign combined “consumer interaction, PR and R&D into one program. According to the press reports the company has had than 11,000 new business leads, more than 7,000 new flavour suggestions, and 75,000 unique Web site visits all for a low cost investment”

As far as power shifting away from CRM systems I don’t believe that to be the case. CRM will reinvent itself, Gartner refers to this as Social CRM. Gartner analysts say “There’s operational CRM, analytical CRM, and now there’s collaborative or social CRM”. Today CRM budgets are looking towards more social applications such as Twitter that are at the coal-face of customer service.

SB: Right now there seems to be a lot of confusion between social media and the definition of community. The idea of community is right now as fairly elusive one and is being bandied about like it’s some sacrosanct term. Community built around consumption is, for me fairly transitory. It reminds of an unruly mob during the time of the Paris Commune. We’re not going to get a whole lot of sense out of this right now.

Then there’s these dire warnings coming from people like Forrester, that brands will be excluded from consumer choice because somehow they are now being defined by communities and no longer by the brand owners themselves. I think this is both disingenuous and untrue. Forcing brands out of their hands via social media created communities is only part of the story. While even as early as 2005 Tomi Ahonen and Alan Moore warned marketers, in their prescient work Communities Dominate Brands, that if they didn’t cut loose the shackles of the traditional advertising agency and TV network model they would lose their brands. I’m seeing many of the same warnings again this year, particularly in the wake of the great financial crisis. But what real, if any, changes have we seen to this paradigm? No brands have fallen by the wayside because they didn’t have a social media strategy or because they continued advertising in traditional media.

JB: Brands may not fall by the wayside as such but brands will become stronger because of their consumer engagement strategies. For example, the well known Dell Hell scenario certainly impacted on that organization negatively but by engaging with the community they have come back stronger and more relevant to their client base. If they hadn’t done that who knows where that organisation will be.

Some brands come to social media like Dell in a ‘reactive’ fashion knowing they now need to engage with consumers due to a negative event/issue. Other brands initiate the online engagement strategy ‘proactively’, understanding it will add value to their knowledge base, understanding the client better, product development and customer service.

SB: Ahonen and Moore predicted the consumer and their connected communities, would select the products and brands that are engaged in the most relevant dialogue with them. Somehow this would become the centre of a new modern and sustainable marketing model. While I think there are some massive shifts occurring, I don’t think we’re quite there yet with this because I’m not sure anyone understands these kinds of ROIs yet.

JB: First of all, it is important not just to focus on ROI but measurable goals and each company will have varying goals. Social media marketing is typically a long term investment so to set short term ROI goals is going to be difficult. Setting ROI for a specific short-term campaign is more logical i.e. we spent X dollars taking this campaign to the market place and X dollars in sales. There are many intangible benefits from social media marketing such as increased loyalty from customers, insights and R&D innovations and better customer service many of these are hard to equate with a dollar value.

There is a balance when setting ROI expectations. Many social media audits have an AVE advertising value equivalent metric assigned. This stems from the AVE metric that the public relations industry used but discredited about a decade ago saying it was simplistic and backward looking rather than useful for future strategic planning. Unfortunately, just as in the traditional PR world many c-level execs still want the $ figure and so in the social media marketing world the metric is still used but with some hesitation.

SB: There’s already a view that Web 2.0 and pervasiveness of new community archetypes make demographics dead, but I don’t see this is as too different to these axiomatic definitions of community.

JB: If companies were using demographics as the only avenue for ‘understanding ‘ their customer then, yes demographics are dead. Companies need to have a relationship with the customer rather then simply put them in isolated boxes. Let’s face it boomers today don’t act like middle-aged people years ago – times have changed so the context for those demographics has to change as well.

As far as using demographics to reach consumers via social media marketing, that is still relevant but rather than just understanding income levels and postcodes we need to understand how they relate online and what sites they are using. We need to understand their technographic profile. For example, women 55 plus and men 55 plus operate differently online understanding this will mean you can engage with them more effectively.

Gartner published research on what they call Generation V (virtual) indicating that the generation isn’t defined by specific demographics but by the way they use technology i.e. a behavioural categorisation. Elements of this categorisation incude accomplishments, how they build and share knowledge and their preference for different media channels.

Let’s not throw out the ‘baby with the bathwater’ demographics are not dead but demographic elements need to be relevant to social media marketing.

SB: One of the things I am seeing is the built around the question of measuring influence in social networks and communities. I’m not sure if brands are really measuring this and how much use, if any, they are making of influence metrics.

JB: There are a myriad of ways to measure influence in social networks and the impact of social media marketing. Normally there is a mix of qualitative and quantitative measurements.

To set your measurements you need to set your marketing objectives and relate the metrics to those. For example, if you want to raise awareness of a new product or service attention metrics such as the amount of views of your content are important if you are after sales metrics than you need to look at actionable clicks rather than just views.

I like to break the metrics down into Visibility Metrics (i.e. getting seen) and Engagement Metrics (what people do once they see your content site). So, for example. engagement metrics would include items such as links shared, comments on blogs etc.

SB: I don’t think we’re really in a position to say that brands and companies without a social media strategy are going to find that customers will go elsewhere.

JB: Yes, It may not be quite as apocalyptic as that but recent research looking at brand relationships has shown that on average they are 15% stronger for digital consumers. Even products such as motor fuel and hair care (as shown below) can be impacted favourably by engaging with the consumers online.

Some brands will have more synergy with social media marketing than others. A good example is the non-profit area, where there is already a lot of passion and energy around their company or cause. For example, the United Nations Refugee Agency recently launched their Causes page on Facebook. They reached 50,000 members in just under seven days, raised just over $50,000 and boosted their Facebook fan page to 20,000 fans.

Having said that even brands that you would think would have less ‘talkability’ in social media such as tax (think H&R Block) have done well using social media strategies.

Let’s not forget that while some may think that social media marketing is radical and very new in reality Doc Searls and David Weinberger (the founders of The Cluetrain Manifesto) were spouting social media marketing many years ago.

SB: One of the problems is how social commerce is really going to work. Given the growing failure of traditional advertising in almost all media forms, the real question now is how are brands going to be sold in the future.

15 July 2009

Facing the break boundary: how advertising agency models no longer work.

I attracted a lot of traffic recently to this blog from some comments I made on AdAge on the commoditisation of agencies. One of the things I said was that the traditional agency model was no longer relevant and agencies needed to either adapt or die. And as the makers of a new season of MadMen announced this week its to premiere in the fall, I began to look around for some new thinking on the traditional agency model and found, as market analysts might say, there’s not a lot of guidance. So here’s mine:

1. The agency model as we know it now well over 70 years old and is tied to media types whose basis was honed during the 1930s and 1940s. Agencies are now at a significant break boundary.
2. On the basis of measured spending alone, there is a question over the continued viability of agency models as billable spends are in significant decline across all segments, except digital, research and PR
3. The full service agency model is no longer a differentiator
4. Increased concentration of agency ownership into massive global networks enshrines the traditional agency model to it's detriment
5. Vertical integration of the agency model and its assumption from within by client organisations foils agency growth expectations
6. Enhanced technologies disintermediates agencies and enables client side assumption of agency value add services on a lower cost basis
7. The increasing ineffectiveness of traditional agency work is a direct consequence of a fractured and media environment

Now let’s look at the foundation of all this sturm and drang.

1. The traditional advertising agency model is dying because traditional media advertising and marketing is in state of extreme fragmentation and change.
What we are seeing is what media theorist Marshall McLuhan described in his seminal 1967 work Understanding Media what economist Kenneth Boulding called a "break boundary, a point at which the system suddenly changes into another or passes some point of no return in its dynamic processes” .

Understanding Media 38

“One of the most common causes of breaks in any system is the cross-fertilization with another system, such as happened to print with the steam press, or with radio and movies (that yielded the Talkies). Today with microfilm and micro-cards, not to mention electric memories, the printed word assumes again much of the handicraft character of a manuscript. But printing from movable type was, itself, the major break boundary in the history of phonetic literacy, just as the phonetic alphabet had been the break boundary between tribal and individualist man.

In the last ten years we have seen a number of significant break boundaries as traditional media forms, in particular, newspapers and magazines, largely abandoned by both readers and advertisers in favour of screen based digital delivery of both content and advertising alongside increased usage and proliferation of connected screen based devices.

While many agencies have tried adapt to this with development of digital arms, media planning and more recently, social media – the traditional agency has distinctly failed and is failing. The “MadMen” of the synonymous television series are now mere nostalgia.

2. In the first quarter of 2009 measured ad spending in the US declined by 14%.

Media Type (shown in rank order of 2009 spending) % CHANGE

Network TV -4.2%
Cable TV -2.7%
Spot TV -27.5%
Syndication - National 0.2%
Spanish Language TV -15.4%

Consumer Magazines -19.2%
B-to-B Magazines -25.5%
Sunday Magazines -23.7%
Local Magazines -25.3%
Spanish Language Magazines -20.5%

Newspapers (Local) -25.1%
National Newspapers -28.5%
Spanish Language Newspapers -21.6%

INTERNET (display ads only) 8.2%

Local Radio -26.8%
National Spot Radio -31.7%
Network Radio -11.2%

OUTDOOR -14.6%

TOTAL -14.2%
Source: TNS Media Intelligence 2009

According to TNS, the old media triumvirate of radio, newspapers and TV are the most heavily impacted. The global financial crisis has had a more profound effect on the advertising and marketing industry than predicted, a survey released in February by the US Association of National Advertisers revealed 93 percent of companies were identifying cost savings and reductions as opposed to 87 percent in a similar survey conducted by the ANA six months previously. Further, 37 percent of respondents planned to reduce budgets by more than 20 percent, up substantially from the 21 percent of respondents in the first survey. The top five areas where marketers planned to reduce costs or expenditures in marketing and advertising efforts were:

i)Departmental travel and expense restrictions (87 percent, versus  63 percent in the previous survey)
ii)Reducing advertising campaign media budgets (77 percent, versus 69 percent in the previous survey)
iii)Reducing advertising campaign production budgets (72 percent, versus  63 percent in the previous survey)
iv)Challenging agencies to reduce internal expenses and/or identify cost reductions (68 percent, versus  63 percent in the previous survey)
v) Eliminating or delaying new projects (58 percent versus  61 percent in the previous survey)

In this respect, agencies can no longer rely simply on expanding revenues from media and production budgets. The likelihood that these budgets will return to pre-GFC levels is unlikely given a number of break boundaries have now been crossed.

3. The mass commoditisation of the full service agency model is now increasingly contributing to its decline. The "full service" agency model is an anachronism belonging to 1950s MadMen, when creative and placement were the two axis under which an agency billed. The continued adoption of full service agency models are a failed attempt to roll all aspects of marketing and communication into a single place. Few agencies now succeed because now most can never competently and completely deliver on the whole service offer. Words like “360”, “holistic” and “integrated” are bandied about like some kind of emblematic imprimatur but there are 1000s of these agencies in the world and they all say and do the same thing.

4. In 2008 nearly 40% of all global advertising was managed by just four companies Omnicom ($13.359 billion), WPP ($12.27b) Interpublic ($6.693b) and Publicis ($5.1b) but according to a 2008 Harvard Business School study on concentration levels in the US advertising and marketing services (A&MS) industry concluded “the four largest holding companies captured between a fifth and a quarter of total revenue from the A&MS industry, a share that remained quite stable over the period 2002-2006. These estimates are lower by an order of magnitude than estimates often cited in the trade press.” However, the same study estimated that for US government censuses conducted between 1977 and 2002, the actual number of firms and establishments in advertising and marketing services increased at compound annual growth rates of between two and four per cent. But in 1997 long-term growth (coinciding with exponential digital growth) ended and the number of firms and establishments actually decreased from their 1992 levels. This decline continued in 2002 and continues.

So this decline in long-term industry growth is not only forcing concentration from within the industry at the network level but also to a further concentration of service offering to meet revenue expectations and as the number of firms with billable work continues to fall.

5. Increasing backward integration of marketing and advertising functions by client organisations poses a significant threat to agency survival. Last year the US Association of National Advertisers (ANA) released preliminary findings from a survey of large national advertisers and found 42 percent of ANA member firms had established internal advertising units. Cost efficiencies and savings were reported as the major reasons for pursuing the in-house route. The most effected areas, according to a 2008 Harvard Business School study on bringing advertising agency functions in-house, were technology industries (e.g., electronics, instruments) and the creative industries (e.g., publishing, motion pictures).

6. In a post on his blog in 2007 Scott Carp ex- Atlantic Monthly head of digital and founder and publisher of publishing website 2.0 announced:

“Madison Avenue should be afraid — very afraid. Online advertising is all about scaling the infinite complexity of thousands of media channels and thousands of micro targeted ad messages — yeah, like AdWords and AdSense. Sure, it’s going to be much harder for Google to pull this off with video and brand advertising, but in order for Madison Avenue to compete it’s going to have to be completely dismantled and rebuilt .

Of course, Yahoo and Microsoft (and let’s not forget WPP) are also competing with Madison Avenue — and with Google to become the ultimate vertically integrated media and advertising company .

But the game is all about scaling — and when it comes to scaling, Google will be hard to beat.”

Carp’s right on most counts. Google might be failing with YouTube but does beat agencies at their own game. Last month it even opened Agencyland, an educational portal for advertising agencies designed to educate agency staff on Google Advertising and also help bridge the gap between Google and the agencies. But Google’s global advertising system which its built on Adwords and DIY model is designed to bring a better ROI to advertisers, and for easier monetization for TV, cable, gaming and online publishers. Microsoft is already heading down the same route and places like LinkedIn and Facebook already allow users to effectively create, place and track limited but highly effective micro-targetted campaigns.

7. Not only is traditional advertising effectiveness in decline but the work of agencies themselves is being increasingly called into question. Even as far back as 2005 advertising and marketing theorist Philip Kotler predicted advertising agencies needed to transform themselves into communication agencies. Though many agencies say they have gone down this track, from the 90s its been largely media and digital agencies who have done this, while network owners have resorted to broadening skill reach usually via acquisition to offer clients the benefits of a full integrated agency network. In the end, the traditional agency, has been left largely untouched as have been the measures of its effectiveness. Awards nights for advertising effectiveness or creative design being seen to somehow assuage client incredulity over campaign success and fail. I don’t know how many pieces of creative work I have seen that lack any real ROI, even when it’s been a specific assessment criteria or when a campaign has been deemed a success largely on the basis of viewership figures alone. Set this against the granularity of data offered from digital, where every week one agency or another goes out to market with a new measure of advertising effectiveness such as Compete who launched yet another digital advertising effectiveness measurement system. Still traditional media doesn't seem to giving up. Just this week MRI in the US debuted its AdMeasure report, which aims to put magazine publishing ad effectiveness on the same level as digital.

Earlier this week Forrester Research reported that 60% of marketers surveyed would increase their digital spend by shifting funds from traditional spend. Direct mail most cited by 40% of marketers as being one being cut followed by newspapers (35%), magazines (28%) and television (12%). And while many agencies and their clients continue to create “interesting” advertising as in a recent Harris/AdWeek poll, interesting doesn’t quite equal influence. Nor purchase. Nor survival.

08 June 2009

The limits of Google.

Last month Millward Brown Optimor published their fourth annual BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands rankings and would have you believe Google's brand is worth exactly $100 billion. While I have debated the worth of these kinds of valuations and surveys in previous blogs, in the wake of the impending release of the Google Wave, it now seems a good time to consider the limits of the brand.

Some people think Google breaks the brand model i.e. no advertising on its home page, no advertising per se but both these measures are merely symbolic. While Google may have inspired what many see as a form of brand disruption, is game changing and is somehow Schumpeterian, it is a behemoth brand utilizing both the common architecture associated with monolithic status as well as exhibiting a traditional set of values not unlike Apple and Virgin.

Similarly, you could argue that Google has unlimited potential as a brand and its brand extensions merely reflect this. However, while Google is a highly successful company but with 97% of its revenues coming from Web advertising and 68% of that from advertising on its own Web sites, it is still very much a single proposition company.

Google’s market dominance means it has virtually reached the limits of organic growth and anything further can only come from transformation via acquisition and perhaps through product and service development, in much the same way Apple has. Sure it’s testing the field with Wave, Chrome and Android, which appear to be the spearheads of a greater platform strategy but if we take YouTube as an example of expansion by acquisition, it seems fairly evident that Google is a one-trick pony.

Since its 2006 acquisition of YouTube revenue estimates have varied wildly with analysts like Bear Stearns and Credit Suisse suggesting Google will see between $90 -240 million in revenues this year. It’s a big range but as the number three brand on the internet YouTube only made around $80 million last year and while that’s no small potatoes, it is struggling. Given Google’s 2006 acquisition of YouTube came with a $1.65billion price tag and Credit Suisse estimates operating costs at around $711 million this year. Therefore it’s reasonabl e to assume that despite Google’s deep pockets, the operating gap is not going to be tolerated for too long.

So what does this mean for the Google brand? Of course, YouTube’s traffic will continue to grow exponentially, with no clear end in sight as will the not inconsiderable cost of this business. Set this against mildly successful efforts at monetizing content via advertising and the overall state of the advertising market and you come back to the central problem for YouTube and ultimately, Google. The non-propietary nature of both its search engine and content that forms the basis of the Google brand and proposition is, at the same time, its achilles heel.

To get further understand these limits, look at the performance and what I see as the eventual fate of Yahoo. Like Google, nearly all of Yahoo’s revenue comes from search and display advertising. Since Google’s 2004 float Yahoo has been losing share in search and though Yahoo is still the second most popular search engine, its searches are inferior. While Yahoo’s content continues to attract users for the moment, its search traffic is secondary to choice of Yahoo as a portal. The problem is that while content from the portal generally helps generate search traffic, yet without either distinctive content (everyone accepts that content is no longer a competitive advantage) and superior search, Yahoo is going to decline. What is best described, as Yahoo’s kitchensink approach to both content and feature development, is not disimmilar to that of Google’s. In this market “innovation” is a very tired word. Yahoo has Flickr. Google Picasa. Yahoo has Finance. Google Finance. Yahoo has Mail. Google Gmail and now Wave. Yahoo has Groups. Google Groups. Now just think of Google’s failures with News, Lively, Orkut and Knol and then apply that to a similar Yahoo’s list of failures or better still AOL, its hard not to draw the conclusion that the direction for both brands is anywhere but down.

On revenue and market performance measures alone, Yahoo is a sombre example of how little stock one can place in single proposition revenue models. In 2004 Yahoo reported net income of about $238 million and had a market value of about $36 billion. At the same time Google's stock market value was around $16 billion based on a net income of around $106 million. Microsoft’s offer for Yahoo last year put its market value $45 billion, against a brand valuation 7.45 billion. It had barely moved and most people thought Microsoft was being generous and Yahoo missed the boat. Now with the rankings reversed and sobriety entering market valuations, Google’s Wave is looking like no tsunami.

This blog was originally published in Marketing Magazine on 11 June 2009.

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24 May 2009

Before your eyes: how our media use is a history of screens.

A short history of screens.

1. Around 1600 the camera obscura is perfected. Light is inverted through a small hole or lens from outside, and projected onto a surface or screen, creating a moving image
2. Mechanisms for producing two-dimensional drawings in motion were displayed in public halls by devices such as the zoetrope, mutoscope and praxinoscope were displayed in the 1860s
3. The development of the motion picture camera allows individual component images to be captured and stored on a single reel, "motion pictures” are shown onto a screen for an entire audience in the 1880s
4. The first commercially made electronic television with a cathode ray tube is manufactured by Telefunken in Germany in 1934
5. The first call on a hand-held mobile phone is made on April 3 1973
6. Apple Computers introduce the Apple II, the world’s first personal computer in 1977
7. Mattel introduce the first handheld electronic game Auto Race in 1977

According to the results of a landmark consumer media consumption research study released in March, it comes as no surprise that our dedication to screens know no bounds.

The research, commissioned by the US media measurement company Nielsen Media and its US Council for Research Excellence, followed 372 Americans in two full days of live media observation.

It was was designed to simultaneously observe and measure media exposure, life activities, locations for media use and where people spent their day. The mass observation study took place in six geographically disperse cities across the US. The final sample included 952 observed days and over three-quarters-of-a-million minutes of observation. A not insubstantial study.

The study found we spend on average, 67 percent of our total daily media time with live TV screen-based media (including DVRs, DVDs and games), about two minutes a day watching video via the Internet, and only a fraction of a minute watching mobile video. Even among 18-24-year-olds, the average amount of time spent watching live TV (209.9 minutes) surpassed even computer screen time (169.5 minutes).

If, as the study identifies, our total concurrent media consumption across all forms of media runs to eight and half hours per day, it also confirms our lives are now more tuned to screen time than first thought.

The research shows concurrent media use and exposure is almost the same for all age groups, media choice so rapidly changing that computer-based activities have replaced radio as our number two media. US consumers now spend on average two hours and thirty-three minutes on a computer, but only one hour and 49 minutes with a radio.

Contrary to current thinking, young demographics are not the biggest consumers of media. While the average adult spent 309.1 minutes watching live TV and 14.6 minutes playing back programming via DVR, the biggest consumers of media were in the 45-54 demographic or what the study called a “digital boomer.” Digital boomers spend nine and half hours per day using all four screens (TV, computer, mobile and out-of-home such as kiosks) compared to eight and half hours for all other age groups.

One of the most interesting findings was that on average live TV users were only exposed to roughly an hour a day of advertising and promotions. If proven by subsequent studies, this debunks much of what is claimed around the level of brand message exposure per day (at around 3000). As most live television advertising runs at 15 minutes per hour or so, on the basis of figures quoted in the study, these should be two hours on television alone or around 240 messages on live TV at 30 seconds per message). What’s difficult in this measure was “exposure” remains undefined and so do they mean a viewer actually watching advertising or just appearance? My assumption is they are defining it as active participation. For example, during the live TV commercial breaks people were observed shifting their primary attention to media such as print, phone and computing. This data seems to prove a widely-held but strongly debated view that consumers are avoiding most of advertising in programming when they view live TV. The long held view that consumers still “follow” a brand message as they shift from one media to the next also seems to be questionable.

The study now ranks computer-based time as the number two media category after live TV. Including web use, email, software and internet messsaging, computing time exceeded broadcast radio average duration by 40 per cent. The study suggests computing has now replaced radio as the number two media activity. Radio is now number three and print number four. Print covered major US newspaper and magazines with use around 22 to 41 minutes per day. Claims for the death of print are no longer an exaggeration.

The Council for Research Excellence study shows our typical daily media consumption goes beyond TV to a growing prevalence of new digital screen-based channels. One of the by-products is the finding that suggests we may actually be seeing far less advertising than first thought. Indeed, high levels of media exposure and our attentiveness to advertising may be seemingly unrelated and those oft cited high levels of advertising exposure, possibly no more than a frabrication by media planning and advertising agencies.

While the screen and our fascination with the images upon it have been around for centuries; the variety of screen-based communication channels, our use of their content continues to expand and grow at speed.

Portions of this blog were originally published in the Times of Malta's Technology Sunday supplement on Sunday 24 May and in Marketing Magazine Australia on Tuesday May 26.

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12 May 2009

DIFFUSION for national adoption brands.

DIFFUSION have been appointed to develop the brands of Orphan Angels and Australia's National Adoption Awareness Week.

National Adoption Awareness Week, which will be held this year from November 16-22, aims to encourage, listen and acknowledge all adoption-related journeys and experiences.

Orphan Angels, founded by Deborra-lee Furness and Janine Weir, focuses on assisting global orphan projects and improving Australia 's adoption practices. One of its major projects is the National Adoption Awareness Week.

Orphan Angels President Janine Weir said the group was excited to be working with DIFFUSION as it looked to develop both Orphan Angels and the National Adoption Awareness Week brands.

“This year we’re looking to create even more connections between Australians who are touched by adoption. DIFFUSION’s appointment will enables us to better understand how we can use brand to leverage it and encourage more participation in this year’s event,” she said.

DIFFUSION strategy director Stephen Byrne said the agency was excited with the appointment, given the group’s work was high profile and the agency was continuing to expand its work with organisations that had both national and international reach as well as important social agendas.

DIFFUSION was recently appointed to develop the brand strategy for the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at the University of NSW.

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16 March 2009

When brands fail, does brand valuation too?

Last month Wally Olins, the man synonymous with the London brand agency that still bears his name, pronounced brand valuation an “utterly meaningless process”.

The bedrock on which many brand consultancies, accounting and valuation firms have built their reputations and practices, Olins pulls no punches on the value of brand valuation, describing it as “about as meaningful as sticking your wet finger in the wind and shouting out a number.”

He says this “ apparently rational process” is conducted through a “series of complex, arcane and to a lay mind more or less incomprehensible statistical measurements” but which ignores a number of well known truths.

“The truth is that brands of all kinds jump around all the time. They are in fashion, then they go out of fashion. They are well managed, then they are badly managed; brand managers become too risk averse or take too many risks.”

And his point is well made. Here in Australia we only need to look at a company like Babcock and Brown (B&B). Founded in 1977, this international finance and investment company had at one time 28 offices and in excess of 1,500 employees worldwide including offices in Europe and the United States. In December 2006 it had a market capitalisation of just over $8.5 billion and in 2007 its share price peaked at AU$33.90 but by December 2008 its share price had nose-dived by 99.6% to AU$0.14, representing a market capitalisation of less than $50 million. Last week the company was placed into voluntary administration.

Here Olins’ point is easy to support. Obviously, if a brand like B&B has no financial value (as the B&B board announced in January) - on what basis can any brand valuation be made?

Similarly, as BusinessWeek ranked Citibank the number 11 brand in the world in 2007 with a valuation of U$23 billion by 2009 some estimates put its brand value at around $9 billion and with that its ranking would fall to around number 40. No one can or would dare predict what Citibank’s brand value will be by the end of 2009. And given the level of US government assistance (US$25 billion to date), it’s brand may yet cease to exist (like I saw Washington Mutual close it’s doors and disappear overnight) and what then is the meaning of any valuation?

It Olins is does oversimplify of the brand valuation process in that it does examine both net present value as well as attempts to construct an idea of future value. However, he is right about how often brand valuation is trumpetted as an absolute measure of value and that, almost without exception in most valuations I have seen, the process takes no account of what either customer or market perception and sentiments is for a brand.

And Olins is only half right when he says brands have “no objective, absolute value” but the truth is that brand valuation can be used to establish an objective value but its ability to measure “absolute” value that is somewhat questionable.

The four standard brand valuation methodologies accepted by both the Financial and Accounting Standards Board and the International Accounting Standards Board for use on balance sheets around the world do provide an objective guide to what people should pay for brands. However, they can, in no way, be used to demonstrate absoluteness

The real fact is that by any measure there has only been a small reduction in the brand value of most of the world’s top brands and as market conditions and sentiments change values continue to change. Last week brands like Apple, Google, UPS and Amgen were being touted as possible replacements in the venerable Dow Jones Industrial Average for stricken companies like Citi Group, General Motors and General Electric.

Brand values do reflect balance sheets, market trends and sentiment but can only do their best to take account of black swan moments. In that way there can be no absolutes, and that is meaningless.

This blog was also cross-posted in Marketing Magazine Australia on March 17.

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03 February 2009

DIFFUSION's take on taglines out in India.

We're out in the world.

DIFFUSION strategy director Stephen Byrne quoted in a new article published this month by leading Indian business and marketing magazine, 4Ps.

02 February 2009

DIFFUSION branding new Lowy Cancer Research Centre.

Shameless plug but here's our latest press release:

Strategic branding agency DIFFUSION have been appointed to develop the brand strategy for the new Lowy Cancer Research Centre.

The $127 million research facility is being built at the University of New South Wales’ Kensington campus to house 400 cancer researchers from both UNSW and the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia for Medical Research (CCIA).

It will be one of the largest dedicated cancer research centres in the southern hemisphere and Australia’s only fully integrated adult and childhood centre.

DIFFUSION strategy director Stephen Byrne said the agency was excited with the appointment, given the Centre’s important work and international reach.

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16 January 2009

Martin Lindstrom's Buyology: why every idea you ever had about why we buy won't be changed by what you read here.

Sydney-based author Martin Lindstrom’s Buy-ology might have made a brief appearance on the New York Times bestseller list in November buoyed by some good reviews, but by my standards and those professional marketers, strategists and critics of neuroscience around the world, its a mishmash of spectacularly insubstantial claims drawn from a single set of research experiments backed by cribbed online references and enthusiastic, anecdotal and sometimes annoying marketing evangelism. 

The whole premise of Buy-ology is that brand and purchase decisions are not made on any rational basis but by stimulation to certain sections of the brain. Lindstrom’s neuromarketing experiments use two types of brain-scan technology - functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and SST, an advanced form of electroencephalography (EEG) - to test how various marketing stimuli can affect the subconscious. While the book quotes a number of well known research studies and runs to over two hundred pages, less than a quarter is actually devoted to detailing and recording the results of its four experiments, its the entire basis for his argument.

So here’s the four earth shattering results Lindstrom claims may set off “the biggest branding revolution in 50 years”. It will save you buying this book.

The first experiment, using SST-ECG measured the impact of product placement in television programming and finds that “ we have no memory of the brands that don’t play an integral part of the storyline of a program”. The second, using fMRI on cigarette smokers, tested the effects of “overt, direct and visually stimulating images” and its relationship with subliminal advertising, finding that its iconography and images themselves not logos that actually stimulate purchase behaviour. The third experiment using fMRI tested whether “sports, and sports heroes activate the same areas of the brand as religions did” showed “the emotions we experience when we are exposed to strong brands” is similar if not “almost identical” to the emotions generated by religious symbols. Finally, his fourth experiment, using fMRI on an unknown number of subjects (Lindstrom forgets to tell us how many participated in half these experiements) was designed to “determine whether a signature sound – like the Nokia ring tone – makes a brand more less attractive”. The shocking result: most brands do well when “sound and vision are combined in a congruent way”. Unless you’re Nokia because after a decade or so of use, its ringtone now has a strong aural disassociation. Lindstrom found this result so disturbing he had to give the company a call and tell them!

Lindstrom claims all these “controversial” and “spectacular” findings come from a three-year, $7 million experiment testing 2081 volunteers in the US and Europe (he says they were also from Japan and China but I can’t find these in the results). Buy-ology doesn’t substantiate either the costs or the length of the study period. For example, the commercial cost of fMRI can be around US$525 per hour with standard scans taking around an hour. New fMRI scanners cost anywhere between US$1m and $2.3m and portable scanners around US$2m, so perhaps he had to buy a scanner or two but I seriously doubt this. The point is that he only conducted three fMRI experiments on at least 65 people. Also the standard cost of an ECG scan in the US can range from U$100 to more than $500, depending on the purpose and type of test i.e., asleep or awake, invasive vs non-invasive electrode implantation. Lindstrom’s was non-invasive and his 400 subjects were awake. You do the math.

Untested is Lindstrom's discussion of mirror neurons, behavioural priming and somatic markers, which he tries to draw a line from his own experiments via some scholarly studies he found online. But Lindstrom’s experiments do attract an even bigger question about neuroscience and marketing – whether this kind of research is actually a useful predictor of behaviour. Lindstrom might be fairly certain of this science but most critics of the use of such limited research insist it's too early in the field of neuromarketing to draw these kinds of absolute conclusions. According to Sheffield University School of Psychology Professor Lawrence Parsons, “we don't really know what we are seeing when we watch the brain work. Is it the thing itself - the thought, the flash of insight - or just an aspect of it, the bark rather than the dog?”

It’s clear to me Lindstrom’s claims require substantial research to draw any probable link between the outcomes of these experiments and predictors of future purchase behaviour. Right now his results just show a degree of correlation between stimulation and behaviour, they don’t prove a single basis of causation.

Last year I read a New Yorker article on the roots of psychopathy, describing how researchers have being using a portable fMRI scanner to scan the brains of US prison inmates to uncover the basis of psychopathy. It suggests that if a “biological basis for psychopathy could be established” then pharmacological treatments could be developed. Might not similar treatments be developed for behaviours such as impulse buying and mall rage? These experiments have been conducted for years and have drawn the kinds of accusations which put them in the same category as nineteenth century phrenology. Yet, unlike Lindstrom, none of these researchers dare draw any final conclusions. The field, like neuromarketing is so new, researchers believe they will need more to spend the next ten years and maybe another 10000 scans linked to prisoner DNA, biographical data and case histories before anyone thinks the data makes sense.

In one interview last year Lindstrom said, “If I wrote a serious, heavy book, no consumers would read it” and a trawl through Amazon reader reviews on Buy-ology will confirm that. A Some advertising agency planners might like this book and a few business and industry people might be gobsmacked, but you won’t read anything here you don’t already know already or can’t find online. But if you like this kind of marketing sooth saying the globetrotting Lindstrom will be in New York and San Francisco in March presenting his exclusive Buy-ology symposiums, digging “wider and deeper than it was possible in the book alone, into the research findings and their implications for marketers and advertisers”. I can’t wait.

This review was also published in Marketing Magazine Australia blog on 19 January .

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12 January 2009

See this is the future of television2: new broadcast business models need airing.

As television audiences and ultimately revenues from traditional advertising continue to erode, free-to-air (FTA)network broadcasters need to move towards new business models, better embrace brand opportunities and adopt increasingly newer technologies.

While in Australia and throughout the rest of the western world, network television is still widely regarded as the best means to deliver the highest number of eyeballs for an advertiser. Increasingly this view is being challenged. First, by the decline in core audience numbers and secondly, from generational abandonment by would-be viewers who can now source their information and entertainment needs from a variety of media sources that sit outside traditional FTA business models.

While the ownership models of FTAs have changed, revenues have remained high and consistent for the past decade and there continues to be increasing aggregation to more whole-of-media models (where media ownership laws permit), there is little change in the way current revenues are realised.

Globally FTA networks are still stuck in a late 1940s model of advertising and sponsorship (worse still are newspapers whose models are more 18th century) barely moving beyond offering air-time to sell soap powders since the first broadcasts in the 1930s.

In 2007 total Australian FTA advertising revenues rose to $3.7 billion, an increase of only 8% from 2006 (ThinkTV/Free TV Advertising Revenues, 2008). Pay or subscription TV with revenues of $275 million, deriving around 92% of revenue from subscription, appears to have also stalled at 27% penetration in Australia despite advertising growth of around 29%. However, this seems unlikely to rise, even with adoption of personal video recorders (PVRs) such as TiVO or Foxtel's IQ.

Against this total Australian internet advertising revenues increased 34.5% to $1.34 billion. According to AdNews online advertising revenues represented the fastest growing media sector, only surpassed by total print media at $4.7billion and total TV revenues.

While FTA’s obviously enjoy a predominant position in Australian and other global media consumption in 2007, the 8% increase in advertising revenue can mainly be attributed to rate card increases.

And while they have sort to extend their brands and access to online advertising dollars through joint ventures with predominately US owned portals. Jointly, the combined media of Nine MSN, Yahoo7 and News Digital media have a market share less than 15% of the total online advertising market.

It is now generally accepted that audiences for FTA are in decline and this is likely to worsen. Between 2001-5 it was 1.4% annually or 5.6% compounded, leading the charge is the 16-39 demographic, who have declined almost 17% in absolute terms across the same period.

The flight from FTA viewing reflects a broadcasting landscape that has become less about centralised technology and more about access viewers or users have and engagement to content via a variety of platforms and devices.

In March 2008 the Boston Consulting Group warned FTA networks were in danger of losing significant revenue because they were not connecting with viewers but in reality there was no significant change throughout 2008.

So rather than fear the move away from traditional models that have changed little since the birth of television, FTA broadcasters may find embracing the brave new world is not the death knell but an opportunity for new business models and revenue streams through better brand and audience engagement. There are four I believe could work.

1. The Social Network model

This model is around a network portal where a consumer can get their information, social and entertainment needs met in one place. This would allow someone to manage, distribute and mix and match media as it is loaded onto a device of choice and share this directly with communities of interest. In the future, a FTA may look a lot more like a cross between FaceBook, Google and YouTube. The Social Network will also enable advertisers to target individuals directly or as a group and more precisely as they will choose to self identify, often on the basis of receiving free content or because they want to know about an advertiser’s product. This makes them both highly valued and a targeted set of eyeballs for an advertiser and enhances revenue opportunities.

2. The Long Tail

FTA networks have been relatively poor in optimising their return from commissioned and original programming. In a long tail scenario, an FTA could both bundle and sell branded programming of any vintage and in any classification via aggregator stores of their own creation or through established outlets such as iTunes, Amazon and Hulu. All of this could be contained within variant pricing models, dependent on the nature and type of of viewer demand.

3. Contextual programming device neutral

In much the same way YouTube is now streaming to a variety of mobile devices and most recently TiVo, contextual programming model derives its income from a pay per view independent of the device. This will enable the FTA networks to maintain control of content as the content it will continue to be stored by the network or its proxy and stream to the chosen device. Further, viewers may choose to receive advertising in exchange for lower content charges. This is way beyond current deals done on offer for mobile television by mobile phone carriers in Australia with the most recent examples, Vodafone’s newly launched Mobile TV or Telstra's BigPond TV.

4. Increased branded merchandising and branded product placement in original network owned programming

US research company PQ Media estimated that Australian companies spent A$137.8 million placing products and brands in TV programs and films in 2005. Australia is the third-biggest product placement market in the world. Against total revenues, contribution for branded merchandising and products this represents less than 0.4% . In 2007 US product placement grew by an estimated 31% with projected spending of $3.79 billion across film and television. In the branded merchandise area, even the lowly SBS network made $48m in 2007 from business interests, including branded merchandise versus $37m from advertising. There are massive and unrealised potential opportunities for FTAs to exploit this area - both in building their own brands (an area they seem to overlook), in network owned production and through product placement opportunities.

While most FTA networks are unlikely to publicly acknowledge their diminishing returns for their advertisers, they urgently need to look at new business models which better identify what and to whom they are delivering and where they can attact new income streams. Up to now FTA network business seems to have ignored the massive changes which have occurred in the rest of media and other sectors, perhaps because their product has continued to be delivered free into low cost devices. So while FTA network owners and shareholders may see some comfort in rising advertising revenues, what does seems inevitable like an inverse version of Moore’s law, is change and like newspapers, some kind of arresting demise.

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