Monday, 19 June 2017

3 ways online communities increase brand value and sales attribution

For many the role of online communities is restricted to one of acting a Support channel. Many brand communities do in fact start in this manner, but only to soon discover that support is but the lowest link in a much larger value chain that online communities can deliver to their brand.

The future is in the hands of those who can leverage the unmatched amount of user generated content (UCG) that online communities produce on a daily basis. This UCG is both a differentiator and a competitive advantage in comparison to any other online channel, including social media.  

There are 3 key ways in which community UCG can be used to increase your online sales:

  1. As an unlimited source of peer reviews and testimonials

In terms of UCG communities are truly the gift that keeps on giving. On average a mid-size community (around 10,000 members) has already the potential of generating 100-200 pieces of content on a monthly basis. While most support agents may be unable to spot a sales opportunity when coming across one, having a marketing or sales representative roam the community quickly results in no less than a dozen product reviews and an equal number of testimonials. Now, keep in mind this is only for a mid-sized community, because in the case of a large community (>100K members) this one will deliver hundreds upon hundreds of reviews and testimonials. So, forget about focus groups and paid reviews. Thanks to UCG’s influence, a community will always outmatch the quantity and quality of whatever you put against it.

  1. Product and brand mentions

Many branding and communications team spend a lot of social listening time and budget in getting a glimpse of their brand mentions across a variety of social media platforms. What you see, however, in companies that have a branded community is that most of these mentions occur right under their noses. Online communities have the power to gather and multiply the number of conversations about your product. Whether it is to gather feedback or simply to understand the swings in opinion related to your brand a community will deliver all the insights you need… and most importantly it will do so in the UCG format that Google loves, which takes me to key point 3.  

3. Greater presence in search queries

Within a few months customer communities can multiply their organic traffic in way you can only dream of with a website or a blog. UCG splurges across dozens and then hundreds of SERPs, thanks to the hundreds of threads containing literally thousands of search query combinations related to your product and your customer needs--long-tail searches are entirely dominated by a community’s UCG. Thanks to the SEO juice of UCGs, branded content can, in turn, increase it’s own SEO power thanks to the accrued authority of the community, winning in this way a few big keyword searches of its own.

And lastly even an offline offshoot: 42% of consumers search on their phones when they are in your Brick and mortar stores. Can you guess what content they will be keen to find first?

By Daniel Vargas Gomez

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

How to ensure that your brand story shines across all media?

What is the role of storytelling in Branding?

Consumer perception and interpretation of brand experience has a lot to do with storytelling. Consumers use personal and shared stories to interpret their experiences in virtually any context. Brand related storytelling attempts to use the same hunger for narratives that people use to convey meaning to other areas of their lives. It is this very human inclination for storytelling that has made of the brand story a major marketing product.

The role of the brand story as a marketing product is well known and supported by numerous empirical studies, which have shown how stories can be powerful tools of persuasion. *

Stories’ success in the marketing context is due to the fact that they build consumer awareness, enable product comprehension, awaken empathy in consumers, help them recall a message and give meaning to consumer experiences (Singh and Sonnenburg, 2012). My intention is therefore not simply to preach to the coir, by reminding you of how important storytelling can be for brands, but rather my interest is to enable a rediscovery and extension of their use, in accordance with the growing demands of our digital landscape.

Storytelling as the core of your network of marketing channels will enable you to integrate and systematize your content, in turn, improving its effectiveness and making it stand out from the crowd. 

Stories are great, so where do we go from here? 

The emergence of a variety of communication channels, of different platforms across media, has revitalized the brand story. The online landscape, represented by a variety of delivery channels through which people connect with brands and with each other, has however changed the relatively simple role of storytelling: it is no longer enough to come up with the right brew of creative value and narrative flair, in order to successfully position your brand.

The reason for the shift in storytelling is due to the fact that stories have gone from being context specific to becoming part of the way people bring together different experiences across media: there are many labels that have are being used today to describe this new landscape, from transmedia (in Consumer Cultural Theory) to multimedia (in Media Studies) and even Inter-mediality (in the humanities). Beyond the theoretical nuances, what a variety of communications across media entail can be summed up as follows:

What appeared, at first glance, as separate and individual channels are actually integrated knots, all of which contribute to the particular interpretation that consumers make of a brand story and of their brand experience. Integrated marketing does not mean, therefore, that a same story is repeated across channels, but rather that different elements are dispersed across channels and that the consumer plays an active role in bringing them together—hopefully interpreting them as part of a coherent whole, which is the story. In doing so, consumers don’t just receive a message but become an active part of the story: the brand story can be said for this reason to have become truly experiential.

The logic or intention of the savvy marketing strategists is precisely to succeed in delivering dispersed content in a manner that, remains structured and integrated, from a managerial point of view—if the process of delivery appears disconnected or does not allow for performance evaluation to take place, then it is unlikely to become a fruitful part of the ongoing marketing activities of a company.

The strategic goal is to influence consumer perception of dispersed content, so that it is interpreted as being part of a unique brand story, from which it gains meaning. To do this each piece of content must become linked and part of a network of channels; this is in fact the very same way in which individuals transform their memories into stories, as cognitive psychologists sum up when saying that ‘in cognitive terms, a brand story creates new nodes and links in memory, inducing greater processing, which may lead to stronger self-brand connections’ (Anderson, 1983; Escalas, 2004).

Yet the metaphor of the network goes way beyond cognitive processes—it is not about what is going on inside a person’s head, as more about what happens on the outside, where experiences are shared and stories are told. The Network is actually not so much a metaphor as an actual heuristics, a mental model that can help marketing professionals understand the role that different actors play in the construction of brand stories.

The entertainment industry has been exemplar in leading the way, telling unique stories that develop, however, across different media: from Glee to The Matrix, Dr Who, Star Wars and Twilight, all have transcended their original medium and instead created new knots in a network that lives through a variety of Social Media, video sharing platforms, as much as offline in clothing stores, Lego sets, and the list could go on and on. Their success lies precisely in being able to keep the story going. The best way to do so is no doubt to allow consumers to become active participants in the process of storytelling, becoming active sponsors of a brand and influencers in their own communities.

Network Analysis provides brand strategists with the analytic toolset needed to manage and to become visionaries of their brand’s story, awakening consumer enthusiasm for their brand and naturally their offerings (products or services alike).

The objectives for the brand strategist who wants to take a brand story to the next level can be summed up, as mainly 3:

1. Identifying the types of brand stories their consumers know—what are the stories that already inspire them in their lives?

2. Identifying the types of brand stories that consumers want to hear—what are the elements that make the stories they know unique and how can they be mobilized to create similarly inspirational stories?

3. Understand the consumers’ desire to hear certain brand stories through different media vehicles.

Would you like to transform these insights into actionable points? No problem, I can help. Just drop a few lines to my email or get in touch with me through LinkedIn

Do you want to know more about how you Network Analysis can boost your company’s marketing strategy? Check out more articles at the factish.

* Granitz, N., & Forman, H. (2015). Building self-brand connections: Exploring brand stories through a transmedia perspective. Journal of Brand Management, 22(1), 38-59).

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

3 customer-centric strategies that will boost your branding activities

Do you want your branding to go beyond an aesthetically appealing logo?

Then your branding must become customer-oriented and re-focused with an objective in mind: building a coherent and aspirational identity that consumers want to talk about with others.  Let me explain.

Building a strong brand identity has become a must for businesses of all sizes. Branding however has been traditionally approached, in smaller companies, by a visually inclined creative, who is often a designer. The visual character of branding has, no doubt, an enormous role to play; yet brand building in our Digital Era has become a complex task, requiring the combination of strategy, consumer intelligence and network thinking, if it is to result in successful market positioning, customer loyalty and increased brand equity. This article discusses the advantages you can derive from using network analysis, as the main strategic approach behind your branding efforts—if you want to first know more about Network Analysis take a look at What is Network Analysis?

Let’s get started.

1. Consumer-oriented Branding or Branding as relationship building

Successful branding, by which I mean, successful positioning of a brand that results in effective differentiation is all about relationship building. Branding relationships, however, are not only about relationships with your customers, but also about the relationships you build with prospects, partners, and to a degree, with all those who at some point can influence your customer’s journey.

Having a customer oriented branding means that the purpose of your brand is to add value to people's lives; this is how you want your brand to be perceived and this is why your offering’s value is a continuation of your brand’s promise. Defining the metrics or measurements by which you evaluate the quality of the relationships you build, should be the starting point of your branding activities.

The key, however, is not to derive such measurements from generic recipes about what good customer relationships should be, but rather to determine them based on the values and the positioning statements that you have set for your brand. This means, for instance, choosing a multidimensional perspective to measure the value of your brand: combining brand equity measurements, which usually rely on your financial performance, with perspectives that take into account customer acquisition and lifetime value, as well as more localized aspects, such as the authority of your branding-related content in SERP results and your brand’s value promises, will provide a more accurate picture of your brand’s value.

Building fruitful relationships and evaluating their role is equally important: your company story, your values and your customer experience, are all aspects that are relational at their core and, as such, should be evaluated accordingly. Shareability is, from this perspective, a way to measure your brand’s relationships with customers and the wider public, yet it is not simply a matter engagement, measured as a percentage of likes, shares or comments. Shareability delivers greater value when it enables you to understand the reasons, the motivations that people have, to engage with your brand—it may be the emotional, reflective or entertaining qualities of a particular piece of content, albeit always mediated by the relationship they have with your product and your projected values. In all cases network analysis allows you to compare types of content because it enables you to focus on the quality of the relationships you are building, rather than simply describing the reaction of individuals to certain types of content, which almost always ends up with the same recommendation for companies: make your content trigger an emotional response, even without having a clear understanding about the relation between emotion and purchase decision, for instance.

2. From adoption to creation of brand identity

When establishing goals for their brands it is common for companies to use 3 well-known and established brand dimensions: image, message and mission (or values). While these dimensions are relevant and can help you structure your branding efforts, they are reductive and difficult to integrate with your broader marketing activities. Branding imagery tends, by and large, to be associated with logo design and in short, with things that are visually appealing. In the online world where audio-visual content is key and where infographics need to deliver value beyond aesthetics, such focus on image is often too reductive—it also adds to the disconnection, between creative talent and the more strategic managerial talent (production, marketing and sales managers, etc.).

Your company should avoid reducing its brand building efforts to a checklist of sorts. Instead, it should, first and foremost, reconfigure such efforts around the relationship that it wants to have with customers, prospects and the general public. If branding, as relationship building is more about the evaluation of the relationships that your company already has, then brand building should be about the relationships that it wants to have.

Brand building begins, therefore, when you think about the ways in which your brand and, by implication, your offering relates to consumers, whose purchase decisions have become investments—of time and money—on a shared identity. I purposefully said, the way in which your offering relates to consumers, because in order to fully grasp customer experience one must begin by leaving behind the assumption that only consumers are active, while your offering is passive. If your offering is passive, then this means that your consumer experience is fundamentally out of your control: it does not attempt to create long lasting memories or transform a chore into a lively activity, among other ways in which your product delivers value.

Taking control of your customer experience and transforming your offering into an active agent begins, no doubt, by having a detail rich understanding of your consumers. In knowing how their expectations and preferences affect their behaviour, not only as consumers, but also as teachers, parents, managers, etc., your company is able to identify opportunities for your offering to become active. A great example of this is the relationship of consumers with Apple’s IPod. Instead of focusing exclusively on the convenience of having a library of songs at all times in your pocket, the IPod’s customer experience is built on the new experiences that are now possible for consumers owning an IPod: being able to jog at the rhythm of a playlist that functions as an energy boost, transforms a tedious workout into a memorable and enjoyable experience.

3. Your brand, your network

I have discussed the ways in which a brand’s identity can be constructed, by focusing on the value of relationships. The focus on relationships enables you to see your brand as a bundle of relationships between humans, technologies, and objects that come together to deliver unique consumer experiences. In other words, the focus on relationships allows you to see your brand as essentially a network. The concept of network is often used as a synonym for the World Wide Web, yet more than the image of a spider-web, a network is a mental model that allows you to coherently understand organizations that are not hierarchical, that entail a variety of different constitutive knots that can form internal networks and which are dynamic, that is, change through time. Under this perspective, a brand can be understood as a network with at least four main knots or internal networks: the network of consumer experience, the network of communication channels, the organizational network, and the network of partnerships.

Do you want to know more about how you can apply Network Analysis to your company’s strategic branding? Want a more personalized approach? No problem. Just drop a few lines to my email or get in touch with me through LinkedIn

Monday, 20 July 2015

Why are relationships at the core of brand experience?


The dawn of the Experience Economy (Pine & Gilmore, 1999) has meant for brand strategists, recognizing the ubiquity of communications and entertainment as the core ingredients of branding activities. Many of the most successful online brands are entertainment brands and, broadly speaking, educational in nature (for example, think of the prominent online brands YouTube, Google, Wikipedia). Terms like infotaintment have gained an important place in the jargon that goes beyond their use as catchy buzzwords. Brand experience is today defined by a brand’s ability to effectively communicate across a variety of channels and to do so in a way that delivers real value to consumers. In fact, Gilovich et al, (2014) among other empirical researchers, have consistently shown that people derive more value from experiential purchases than materialistic ones—consumers don’t simply want goods to be functional or to provide social status, but want them to add value to their lives and to help them build their own sense of identity.

Along these lines, the 2009 Brand experience: what is it? How is it measured? Does it affect loyalty? showed that brand experience entailed an additional factor to the traditional four used by most brand strategists: brand attitude, attachment, personality and involvement. Their work showed that the intensity of the experience—which is separate from brand valence or emotional charge—is by itself predictive of desirable brand outcomes. Experiential marketing activities have become primary sources, delivering data on the intensity of experiences, yet the increased capabilities of digital media to deliver multifaceted communications and to test their results in real time have made digital platforms just as apt for the job—Red Bull’s Stratos remains emblematic about the role experiential marketing plays in brand activation.

The traditional approach to brand experience tells firms to focus their experience on one or more of the following five dimensions: sensorial, affective, intellectual, behavioral and relational, where the dimension chosen is often determined by the setting of the experience (the channel or delivery method). Many Brand Strategists simply take this determination for granted; yet those with intellectual curiosity are motivated to raise the same question that Bern Schmitt, the father of experiential marketing, is still asking today:

Are certain digital and mobile settings and media particularly appropriate for evoking certain experience dimensions?

From a commercial perspective retailers may rephrase this question as, for instance, how should store and online settings be designed and integrated to deliver certain types of experiences?

Whether rephrased to your own context or answered in the original, it remains the case that the answer begins by acknowledging that we live in a world that has social concerns, where companies are more and more often seen as being accountable for their contribution to society at large, and beyond their ability to deliver increased shareholder value; brands are expected to contribute to people’s happiness, by adding value and wellbeing to their lives. In other words, the intensity of an experience can simply not be reduced to the emotional response that branding communications entail.

This is a fundamental point to make, because today brand valence has become the established approach taken by many renowned brands, from Coca Cola’s Open Happiness to Reebok’s I am what I am. Some brands like Aston Martin are not even shy about their one-dimensional approach, with their slogan Power, beauty and soul.

Emotions matter, no doubt about it, but no medium or small sized company has the luxury of focusing on brand valence alone, and then again, why should they?

In the same way as brands cannot be simply dismissed as mere symbols of materialism, successful brand experiences are not one-dimensional—and the risk of doing so is failing to connect with your audience. There is no need to sugarcoat it: brand experience is a multidimensional game that requires visual narratives and accurate consumer intelligence.

Relationships are the core of brand experience

An individual’s relationship with your brand can potentially affect all of your branding measurements, such as equity, engagement or response. In fact a consumer relationship with brands must be intentionally configured, ensuring:
  • Consumers establish deep, meaningful relationships with your brand (Fournier, 1998), 
  • Consumers can become emotionally attached to your brand (Thomson et al, 2005)
  • Consumers use your brand to express their personality not just their status (Vanitha et al, 2009) 
  • Consumers use your brand to build their social self (Escalas and Bettman, 2005)

In turn, once a brand disappoints a consumer, what follows is the breakup of the relationship that is not dissimilar to that of a raunchy divorce with the serious possibility of a trail of negative feelings toward the brand being left behind.

The best way to evaluate how consumers relate to your brand is through Network Analysis (see also What is Network Analysis?). Network Analysis is a relational approach to brand experience, where the quality of relationships determines the value of your delivered experience.

The first thing you must keep in mind is that consumers don’t simply relate to your product, to your logo or to your representatives at the point of sale. In fact customers will relate to your company’s social media outlets, touch points, blog content, YouTube videos and, in short, with all the relevant content that you have created, no matter its initial purpose or scope. Every piece of content outlines a different relationship with your customers, but at the same time, your customers will experience your brand as an association of diverse meanings and values that can either bring value to their lives or simply disrupt it.

Think for instance about the way consumers use your product or relate to your company’s delivered service. Consumers do not simply use your offering to achieve a specific task, but instead associate the way your product delivers value with past experiences, with meanings and values that they hold dear and with other products they use. To illustrate this, keep in mind that when people purchase an IPhone they are, on the one hand, associating themselves with positive values such as innovation, autonomy, out-of-the-box thinking, among others, which they see as enriching their lives. On the other hand, when they use the IPhone they don't simply expect a certain level of functionality, but they expect a product that positively transforms common experiences: jogging around the park while tracking their progress and listening to their favourite bands, being able to browse around the internet at lightning speed or being able to stop typing and start using Siri to find valuable information. Of course these is not a comprehensive list and are just a handful of experiences all of which entail unique relationships with the product—in fact consumers forge relationships with products and technologies, which can be as fulfilling and valuable to them as the ones they have with peers, friends and family.

Do you want to know more about how you can apply Network Analysis to your company’s strategic branding?

Want a more personalized approach? No problem. Just drop a few lines to my email or get in touch with me through LinkedIn