Bridging the Gap Between Brand Promise and Expectation

by Eric Tsai

One of the first priorities in building your brand is to know who you are and why you matter before you uptake a brand strategy.  I received some feedback on the post “12 Principles of Brand Strategy” and thought it would be important to discussion how to utilize strategy to achieve business goals.  Whether you’re selling a product or a service you need to be able to articulate why you are doing what you set out to do. What’s the meaning behind your offer? Do you have a core belief in what it is that you do?

Too often businesses jump on strategy and tactics but forget the real character behind their brands.  Strategy determines how to position your brand so you can optimize the brand experience you’re trying to emulate.  If you aren’t clear with your brand’s attitude, don’t market, don’t advertise, don’t publicize – don’t communicate to the world because you will likely confuse your audience at the end.

When you start communicating, you put out signals about your brand.  Your audience can’t help but to interpret them in an attempt to aggregate information about you, your personality and ultimately your reputation.  It’s like meeting someone for the first time, your tone of voice, your body language and your choice of words are all part of your character from which all facets of your communication expands.  Marketing simply provides different communication solutions to amplify your signals to position and differentiate your brand.

By defining a realistic and manageable promise (your brand value) you can then proceed to strategize on how you will fulfill them.  If you want your target audience to see your offering as the only answer to their needs, you must meet or exceed their expectations.  That’s what remarkable brands do.  They align their brand value with their business strategy to create a winning brand strategy that’s authentic and meaningful.

Communication Tactics

In generate there are three major areas communication tactics:

1. Marketing:
Viral marketing, multi-level marketing, direct marketing, word-of-mouth marketing and integrated marketing are all forms of marketing in an attempt to influence an audience through direct communication.  Why would you put in the effort to get everyone’s attention and not fulfill the expectations? People come to expect a specific experience that’s promised to them.  As a brand you must learn to deliver across a multitude of marketing channels.

Coke Cola may have different advertising slogans, but around the world the company maintains the same focus on its core value: to ensure that everyone on Earth drank Coca-Cola as their preferred beverage. They kept their promise on the taste of their product but have utilized a variety of marketing tactics to reach their global audience.

Google, who rarely advertises, focus on their brand promise to “provide access to the world’s information in one click.” As you probably guess it, they did exactly that which is why Google didn’t have to spend heavily on advertising in marketing their search engine.  In fact, when you deliver on your promise consistently and accurately to a specific need, you become the only solution in your target audience’s mind.

2. Advertising:
Advertising can be fun and interesting but it’s merely an attempt to influence through repeated communication. Whether you agree or not, we’re all voyeur seeking for adventurous experiences and brands are the perfect purveyors to fulfill that interest. This concept generates a gap between what’s expected and delivered.

I was not surprise when I came across a recent report by Harris Poll indicating that “Though advertisers and consumers both agree that amusing ads are effective and scary and guilt-inducing ads are not, they don’t see eye-to-eye on the efficacy of other types of advertising appeals.

harris-ad09Although the poll may have some considerable bias, overall advertising professionals and the general public are out of sync.  The problem is trying to pinpoint what the consumer say they want versus the “perceived effectiveness” as well as what exactly worked in sales conversions.  This is also why advertising analytics are extremely important because as a communication tactic, it’s fairly expensive with relatively low conversion rates.  And, let’s face it, results is what it’s all about.

Regardless of your advertising approach, you must first define the desirable outcome for the campaign according to your brand value then let your creative juices flow.  Creativity is where it’s at, especially now with the convergence of media ads are everywhere and viewers have relatively short attention span.

Remember, a memorable ad may elevate your brand awareness, but it doesn’t necessary mean it will increase sales, it’s a great tactic that requires abundance of creativity. A great example would be a musical branding effort by Coke “omitting any reference to the brand in a catchy song it created,” and still, consumers were able to connect the song with the brand as it climbed to the top 40 Apple iTunes pop chart.

3 Public Relations:
Public relations or PR is the attempt to influence through third party communication in a positive light. Fundamentally, it’s reputation management while developing relationship with mainstream public as well as other organizations where communications exists.  However, with the emerging trend in social media, PR now must take on an important element of this explosive platform – conversation.

PR helps in building brand loyalty so it is even more important to have meaningful conversation to further your authenticity. This is why brands are now turning to bloggers for PR needs but the key is transparency.  According to research from Text 100, “Bloggers are big on transparency when it comes to marketer involvement. Between 85% and 89% of US bloggers agreed that they should acknowledge when a post has been written in return for some sort of compensation.

bloggerrelations

The proper use of PR will boost your traffic and increase conversion rates.  But keep in mind it can also go the other way.  Look at Amazon’s product reviews and you’ll find that there are highly influential reviewers on there that can help drive the rank of a product up or down.  And just like bloggers they have the power to endorse your brand with their signature on it. Their audience have come to expect their personal brand promise of a “proper review” thus anything less could jeopardize their reputation.  Also a full disclosure of their intentions (compensation or benefits) would not damage their name. That’s the strength of brand authenticity built on a solid relationship.

The take away: As global communication and global business are now almost instantaneous, having the right brand strategy and identity is secondary.  If you don’t define your brand promise, how would you go about managing your audience’s expectations?

How would you feel if you were promise something but it turns out to be something completely different?

When to Adopt Social Media for Your Business?

by Eric Tsai

What happens when hype is no longer hype but a real trend? Can you afford to miss benefiting from social technologies?

These are questions I get about using social media as part of the brand strategy conversations. This is when I introduce the theory of Technology Adoption Lifecycle (aka Rogers’ bell curve) to illustrate product adoption to better understand how new ideas and technologies spread especially in today’s digital culture.

roger's-bell

Fundamentally Innovators seek new ways of doing complex tasks and are willing to take the risk hoping to gain competitive advantage over time.

The Early Adopters want speed and cost savings to drive other innovations that’s mostly perceived advantage.

I see the rest of the adopter groups (early majority, late majority and laggards) as Mass Market. This group relies heavily on the concept of social proof and wants proven process from credible source that demonstrates significant cost savings over the existing way of doing things.

Now let’s apply this concept to social media.

Adopting at the Right Time

The idea of adopting new technology is to improve productivity and fuel growth, not to chase the hype or follow the trend for the sake of doing it.

You need to ask yourself this: How much risk are you willing to take investing (time, resources, money) in social media? Does your organization have the resources to execute the adoption of this new platform?

Regardless of how mature social media is, it has to fit within your brand strategy.

Don’t get me wrong, the timing of adoption is important and it could bring unexpected opportunities, but not if you’re unable to optimize the value from it.

You need to have the right adoption strategy at the precise time that gives you the longest lifetime value at an acceptable level of risk.

You can see some examples of mergers and acquisitions by companies attempting to harness innovation in the adoption lifecycle. Recently eBay sold Skype for $1.9 billion and acknowledged “that it had overpaid for Skype by about $1 billion — the purchase price was $2.6 billion but the Times has reported the total cost reached $3.1 billion after bonus payouts to founders.

Being a happy Skype user myself, I know the value of Skype today but eBay’s timing of the acquisition was simply off not to mention it didn’t fit with their business model.

A better approach would be to find something that aligns with their line of business in auction listings, classifies and ecommerce. EBay does own paypal, which is a great buy because it actually enhances their online auction business and helps to extend their brand to reach more customers. Looking from the hind side, a company like Craigslist (they do own 25% of it) would probably make more sense to go after.

One factor to keep in mind is sustainability of social technologies. This can be seen by the rapid adoption of the earliest social technology: email.

As a technology spreads widely, the economy of scale expands but its value will start to shrink.

Email is supposed to improve our communication and productivity but as we’re at the end of adoption lifecycle spam has exploded, “now accounts for 90.4% of all e-mail,” costing us more time, resource and money to manage email.

When a technology starts to get commoditized, it’s time to innovate.

This is why companies like Google is re-inventing the email landscape with Gmail going heads on against Microsoft’s Exchange email.

For social media one could argue that we’re still in the Early Majority section of the Mass Market and we’ve yet to see the explosion from the Late Majority section.

Regardless, the adoption of social media will continue to grow according to Forrester Research. I like their consumer social technology profiling tool that allows you to check the profile of your customers.

Take away: Adopt social media for your brand when you’re ready, even just to experiment, you still need time and resources. Focus on aligning your brand strategy to help you achieve your business goals. If you need social media strategy, you can start with this.

Are you an Innovator or an Early Adopter?

The 12 Principles of Brand Strategy

by Eric Tsai

In a situation where you’re selling to multiple personalities, it’s best to first connect everyone on a common ground then articulate clearly what’s in it for each of them.

The goal is to stimulate an engaging conversation that allows us to change perception, diagnose expectations and bring clarity to the dialogue.

That’s the essence of developing a brand strategy – the foundation of your communication that builds authentic relationships between you and your audience.

It is by defining your brand strategy that allows you to utilize marketing, advertising, public relations and social media to consistently and accurately reinforce your character.

Without defining the core strategy, all channels of communication can often become a hit and miss expense.

Here’s 12 brand strategy principles I believe to be the key to achieve business success.

1. Define your brand

It starts with your authenticity, the core purpose, vision, mission, position, values and character.  Focus on what you do best and then communicated your inimitable strengths through consistency.

There are many examples of companies acquiring other brands but only to sell them off later because they don’t fit within the brand and its architecture.

Microsoft acquired Razorfish in 2007 when it bought aQuantive, a digital marketing services company, for about US $6 billion then sold it a few years later for $530 million.

Simply put, Razorfish isn’t a good fit with Microsoft’s brand strategy.

2.  Your brand is your business model

Supports and challenge your business model to maximize the potential within your brand. Think of personal brands like Oprah, Donald Trump, Martha Stewart and Richard Branson.

These individuals practically built their business right on top of their personal brand; everything they offer is an extension of their brand promise.

3. Consistency, consistency, consistency

Consistency in your message is the key to differentiate.

Own your position on every reference point for everything that you do. President Obama focuses on one message only during his campaign, CHANGE. BMW has always been known as the “ultimate driving machine.

4. Start from the Inside out

Everyone in your company can tell you what they see, think and feel about your brand.  That’s the story you should bring to the customers as well, drive impact beyond just the walls of marketing.

That’s example how Zappos empowers employees to strengthen consumer perception on its brand.

5. Connect on the emotional level.

A brand is not a name, logo, website, ad campaigns or PR; those are only the tools not the brand.  A brand is a desirable idea manifested in products, services, people, places and experiences.

Starbucks created a third space experience that’s desirable and exclusive so people would want to stay and pay for the overpriced coffee.

Sell people something that satisfies not only their physical needs but their emotional needs and their need to identify themselves to your brand.

6. Empower brand champions

Award those that love your brand to help drive the message, facility activities so they can be part of the process.

If your brand advocate doesn’t tell you what you should or should not be doing, it’s time to evaluate your brand promise.

Go and talk to someone that works at the Apple retail store or an iPhone owner and you’ll see just how passionate they are about Apple.  It’s a lifestyle and a culture.

7. Stay relevant and flexible

A well managed brand is always making adjustments.  Branding is a process, not a race, not an event so expect to constantly tweak your message and refresh your image.

Successful brands don’t cling to the old ways just because they worked in the past; instead, they try to re-invent themselves by being flexible which frees them to be more savvy and creative.

Here is an example: when the economy tanked this year automaker Hyundai came out with an assurance program that lets you return your car if you lose your job with no further financial obligation and no damage to your credit.

The results?

As of end of February, only two buyers have taken advantage of this program but it has boosted their sales by 14% year-over-year in Q1, only one of the two companies increased revenue while companies such as Honda experienced a drop of more than 30%.

Follow by that campaign in July, as gas prices expected to push higher during peak summer travel months, Hyundai came out with another program that guarantees a year’s worth of gas at $1.49 per gallon on most models.

8. Align tactics with strategy

Convey the brand message on the most appropriate media platform with specific campaign objectives.

Because consumers are bombarded by commercial messages everyday, they’re also actively blocking out the great majority of them.

Invest your branding efforts on the right platform that communicates to the right channels.

Television may be expensive but it has a broader reach, wider demographics and can produce instant impact.  On the other hand, social media may seem cheap but it takes time, resources and may not give you the desire outcome.

9. Measure the effectiveness

Focus on the ROI (return on investment) is the key to measure the effectiveness of your strategies.

Often times it is how well your organization can be inspired to execute the strategies. It could also be reflected in brand valuation or how your customers react to your product and price adjustments.

Ultimately it should resonate with sales and that means profitability.  But don’t just focus increasing sales when you could be getting a profit boost by reducing overheads and expenses as well.

Give yourself options to test different marketing tactics, make sure they fit your brand authenticity and aligns with your strategy.

10. Cultivate your community

Community is a powerful and effective platform on which to engage customers and create loyalty towards the brand.

In an active community, members feel a need to connect with each other in the context of the brand’s consumption.

We all want to be an insider of something, it excites us to tell people which community we’re part of and what knowledge we posses.

In many ways it’s our ego that prides us to be part of a sports team or a professional group.

Guess what car would members of the Porsche club consider first when it’s time to purchase their next vehicle?

Brand communities allow companies to collaborate with customers in all phases of value creation via crowdsourcing such as product design, pricing strategy, availability, and even how to sell.

11. Keep your enemies closer

Even if you have the most innovative, highly desirable product, you can expect new competitors with a superior value proposition to enter your market down the road.

The market is always big enough for new players to improve what you deliver better, faster, cheaper. Call it hypercompetition or innovation economics, competition could be good for you believe it or not.

It challenges you brand to elevate the strategy and deliver more value.

Just look at how the Big Three (automobile manufacturers General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) got crushed in the past decade by competitions from Germany and Japanese.

Not only do their competitors make a better product, they’re more efficient doing it and command a higher brand loyalty.

In 2008, Toyota overtook GM while Honda passed Chrysler in US sales.

12. Practice brand strategy thinking

IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown calls design thinking “a process for creating new choices.

Essentially it means to not just settle for the choices currently available but to think outside the box without being limited.

This concept actually applies to your brand strategy creation process that I called brand strategy thinking.

It’s always easier to execute tactics than coming up with a strategy because it implies the possibility of failure.

It’s much faster to emulate what worked for your competitor than to come up with something original and creative.

But the truth is, that’s not you and it violates the first principle of brand strategy.  Brand strategy thinking is about creating the right experience that involve all the stakeholders to foster a better strategy.

Leverage the ecosystem that includes your employees, partners and customers to help you articulate your brand strategy so they sync together.

The take away: Having a brand strategy will bring clarity and meaning to your brand so you can focus on making, creating, and selling things that people actually care about.

If you could do that, your brand would be unique and memorable on its way to become an esteemed brand.

Are there any you disagree with?

Let me know if I’m missing anything.

Harness That Social Media Bottom Line

by Eric Tsai

This week an interesting question came up during a discussion I had with business owners wanting to learn more about integrating social media into their existing marketing strategy. As expected, the second question hit on the topic of social media ROI (return on investment), specifically it was “Can social media help my bottom line?” I quickly went into a discussion about measuring the result which is sales, and how companies must understand customer profitability in order to make smarter decisions that produce higher profits.

Of course we can use the “old way” of analyzing impact such as clicks, eye balls or traffic, but those are limited not to mention unproven at this point.  We’re still at the “testing before the test gets developed” stage before a solid method of measuring social media ROI is meaningful.  However, it’s about time that we all try to find meaningful metrics that truly justifies the investment.

Accordingly to the research report “2009 Marketing Industry Trends” from Equation Research, the top 4 ways to track social media efforts has little to do with directly tracking sales.  The survey suggested that “measurement is understandably dispersed. Yet there is an acceptance that both hard and soft measures need to come to bear in order to assess success.”  Now these guys know something and it’s a start to drive and refine testing.

smmeasure

Social media takes knowledge, time, energy, training and it gets frustrating when results don’t reflect the effort put into it.  In a recent article “Social Fresh, good friends, and the definitive Social Media ROI presentation”, Olivier Blanchard generously laid out a tell-all truth about social media ROI proof of concept methodology.  If you speak business (not just marketing), I encourage you to checkout his blog and the slide presentation.

Looking Ahead

Organizations should remain focus on the most profitably customers and align their brand strategy around them while targeting potential customers with similar values.  By recognizing the different variables that influence customers to buy or not to buy, companies can make better informed decisions to nurture high-profit customers.

Whether you’re a start-up or a Fortune 500 company, there is a ceiling for your economy of scale so consider building your marketing strategy around the products and services to those life-time value customers.  Then abstracting soft and hard measures in analyzing social media ROI should become more effective and meaningful.

Getting started with social media is easy, engagement becomes accessible and shouldn’t you be authentic already anyway?

Social media is about having the “right” conversation but ultimately they have to mean something.  From buzz to leads, word-of-mouth to rewards program, everything translates to revenue.   Yes, it’s about money.  There is this perception that people are connected on social network because of alternative motives and sooner or later you’ll be spammed.  Well, what do you expect? Do you really think that Google wants to give you free email? Or that Facebook truly care about helping you to stay connected with your friends?

There is really only 3 ways to make money on the internet: sell subscriptions, sell software, or sell ads.  When it comes down to it, it’s simply friends with benefits.

Develop your own social media ROI starts with knowing your customers.  In an attempt to influence your audience through direct contact, repeated communication and word-of-mouth campaigns, don’t forget about business performance. Find a combination of variables to measure, but whatever you decided to do, it’s important to let the balance sheet do the talking at the end.

The Secret to Social Media Communication

by Eric Tsai

Recently a report was released by US market research firm Pear Analytics with a statement on how 40% of Twitter messages are “pointless babble.” As you can see from the comments followed, the statement rubbed some people the wrong.

Although the analysis was based from a personal value judgment on individual’s communication, it somewhat puts Twitter usage in perspective. At the end of the day nobody can speak words of wisdom every time they open their mouth (not even Warrant Buffet), but the real value of Twitter is its openness as a real-time platform for engagement opportunities.

Perhaps the report is subjective but the truth is Twitter has allowed users to utilize the platform however they like propelling this incredible movement towards the personalization of media. Simultaneous to this growing personalization of media is a stronger notion of connectivity in social media. Not just Twitter but all social media technologies must be seen as revolutionary not simply in their design, but in their redesign by people because there is really no rules or limits on how you want to use it including pushing out pointless babble.

Let’s look at some of the ways people are using the social networks that’s been created.  According to a survey last month from Direct Marketing Association (DMA), “Nearly 60% of marketing and management professionals in a recent survey think social networking can have a significant influence on their company’s brand awareness… more than 45% of respondents believe social networking can be critical to capturing customer insights.”
dma-headmix-social-networking-biggest-impact-may-2009

Evidently marketers are all trying to capitalize on social media to capture customer insights.

Social media allows you to hear what’s been said enabling you to efficiently abstract more relevant information in developing a targeted marketing strategy.  The catch is to draw value to the audience in a meaningful and personal way because the potential for a conversion increases drastically when you target a new audience that is already interested in what you have to say.

Understand the Communication Process: Linear to Interactive to Transactional

Whenever I discuss with clients on how to develop a brand strategy I always ensure there is an understanding of the communication process. Traditional media provides mainly a linear model of communication that’s simply a one-way process where the sender broadcasts a message to a receiver and thus communication and understanding occurs.  Think of it as reading newspaper or watching TV, you’re only receiving information.

A more sophisticated interactive communication model was developed via mediums such as talk radio or online discussion forum that allows feedback to transpose over the linear communication model.  As a result it builds meaning through feedback but with noises that interferes with the communication.  Noise is anything that interferes with the communication of the message with the encoding and decoding process.

And finally there is the transactional communication model that requires the engagement to understand and incorporate individual’s field of experience and frame of reference into the conversation.  This is ultimately how to communicate efficiently and effectively.  Your audience continues to be engaged because you’ve taken encoding, decoding, receiving and sending feedback all into consideration when you communicate.

Social networks encourage a highly transactional model of communication in which people build shared meaning that assumes reciprocity. The real difference is that you’re not just telling others what you want them to understand, which is the content aspect of our messages, but you’re also conveying your understanding of the relationship you have with them.  The conversation becomes more attractive when you can relate to your audience.

Why Brands are Eager to Engage

Unfortunately many brands failed to understand the concept of real transactional communication because they’ve mainly utilize the linear communication channel to “push” their marketing and message.  The problem is that it doesn’t allow for efficient feedback.  Furthermore what’s been broadcast influence how each and every consumer responds back, and that in turns has bearing on the next marketing message from the brand.

Traditional channels discourage open communication that social media is built on which is why today brands are eager to engage with their audience more than ever with this new platform. It’s like a real-time focus group that can give you practical feedback to improve your product or services (One way to look at it).

It’s indicative that a shift from ambient media into conversational media is underway.  You must realize that people’s response has impact on your future communication with them, this is especially important in conversational media so a positive transactional exchange would be optimal.

As social media continues to gain momentum, it’s not simply about building a large following but to cultivate a community in the sphere of trust.  Your brand’s actions and perception will directly impact your reputation and brand image. Executed properly, social engagement can serves as a tangible incentive that’s more effective than other marketing tactics in earning trust.

In fact, this is especially crucial during a recession when trust is at all time low and consumers are extremely selective. Today more people are using the internet because the increasingly social web offers more freedom of choice, allows for sharing and collaboration, enables customization of content, delivers cost-effective entertainment, all with on-demand speed.

Transactional communication is the preferred communication method.

However, one key concept brands must recognize is that trust is simply permission to compete, not as a differentiator.  In order to become an esteemed brand, you must demonstrate that you understand and care about the consumer as well as having a valuable offering.

The take away:  Social media = conversation = transactional communication = meaningful engagement = trust = allow to compete = chance to win lifetime customer.

What do you think?  What’s your communication strategy?  Love to hear from you in the comments.

How the Social Web is Redefining Community and Brand Legitimacy

by Eric Tsai

Recently I gave a presentation on social media in which I mentioned that one of reasons social media is gaining great momentum is that it fosters the creation of community.

Naturally, we all have the desire to be part of a community, to become an insider on something that we’re interested in.

I gave the example of how two fans who loved Coke created a Coke Cola Facebook fan page that became the 2nd most popular page on Facebook with more than 3.5 million fans and yet they don’t work for Coke.

I was then asked “How do I build our community?  Where do we find them? On the internet?” To that I replied “Start by looking around your office, the community should start here, with your employees first. Internet just makes it easy for brand enthusiasts to gather and share their collective values.

That led to a discussion about how internet is redefining the concept of community as we can now gather and form any online community revolutionizing the idea of social capital (connections within and between social networks) and embracing personal brands among audience members.

This is why social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn are so popular because they champion the idea of social capital enabling people to form interactive communities to freely express and connect.

It’s impressive to see that Facebook is approaching United States in terms of its population if Facebook were a country.

facebook_population

(Re)Defining Legitimacy: Opportunities and Challenges

For a long time traditional media has been perceived as the hegemonic manipulation of public opinion and consciousness by media authorities until the explosion of the internet.

We went from limited media sources (newspaper, TV channels, radio) controlling what gets passed through to virtually unlimited sources exchanging diverse and counter-hegemonic viewpoints.

In my opinion, this is one of the contributing factors (besides technology, economy of scales etc.) to the acceleration of social media into the mainstream spotlight.

People are seizing control of their own media experiences determining the spheres of legitimacy themselves amongst the social capital.

Particularly with information consumption, instead of being forced to accept and absorb the limited selection of perspectives offered by media controllers, consumers can now also become producers through participating in social media.

This create opportunities for individuals but problems for companies especially the more traditional organizations.

While social media fosters fresh thinking that challenges authorities, it’s actually a double-edged sword that also fragments communities.

To further compound this trend, people may trust information obtained from their social community much more than they do information from your company.

This is why many brands aren’t yet ready to join the social media party even as the distributed web has matured.

In addition, as the global markets shift into “conversation” mode on the social web, consumers are doing things that traditional marketer didn’t expect – taking ownership of those conversations often completely bypassing the hierarchies to fulfill their need for information about products or services.

In other words, social network instigated problem solving and value creation towards connections between people, allowing open influence within the networks.

The bottom line is that mistakes made by a brand in the social networks could trigger widely publicized compilations of the negative tweets, blog articles, images, and YouTube video with unpredictable reactions from all the open communities.

To understand social media, companies must first understand the power of people is in numbers and the beauty of the network is its pervasiveness.

Every company interested in getting involved in social media should develop its own strategy that can benefit from the open transparentness of the network.

The goal is to be perceived as authentic, interesting and personable.

If you are concerned about your social media presence, it’s time to re-evaluate your brand strategy from your customer’s perspective.

In this economy, consumers are rethinking their choices and are more conscious about making smarter choices, informed choices, and more up-to-date choices.

I’ve developed a model called (MEDIA) as tips that I use to help brands in the social web:

Monitor the Conversation

Get into the habit of monitor conversations proactively and listen to what’s been said about your company, your people, your competitors, and adapt accordingly.

Regularly check what’s already out there on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube so you can be ready to react.

It also helps to track your competition’s conversation since both of you have shared audiences.

The goal is to build tailored brand advocacy programs based on these insights and form a formal process to help drive brand credibility from the inside out.

Engage with Meaning

Follow Warren Buffett’s quote to deliver value: “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.

In this case, the time that people take to engage with your brand is what they pay, so engage with the idea to bring value and elevate the conversation (read my last post to learn why social engagement is about conversations).

During your next conversation with your customers offline, think about where the conversation starts and how it ends.

Would you say something different online than what you say offline?

Define Sphere of Legitimacy

Align promises to expectations and draw your own circle of trust and stick your brand in it.  In the context of social media, brands are being perceived as a person thus making mistakes is not where the problem lies, but how you handle the problem when they occur.

There are many examples (search Google) on how some brands got burned doing the wrong thing with their hand caught in the cookie jar.

Simply put, either plea not guilty and be ready to defend yourself or plea guilty and apologize gracefully, know where you stand in the sphere of legitimacy at all times.

Integrate with Brand Strategy

Social media is simply one aspect of your marketing arsenals that’s part of your brand strategy.

In fact, social media should be integrated into your marketing strategies to build influence through communication that consistently and accurately reinforce your brand to your audience.

Try leveraging existing social media resources to help promote your brand such as building a widget, starting a LinkedIn group, or creating a Facebook fan page.

The goal is to integrate offline and online marketing campaign that clearly defines your brand.

Analyze and Apply

Take the above steps and analyze the outcome focusing on the fundamental of the consumers’ online behavior.

Let people know why they should stay and be part of your community.

Focus on the experience of community, the shared emotional connections where members foster the sense and spirit of your community.

The idea is to constantly improve your community and to do so you need quantitative analysis to track the results of your engagement so you can apply what you learn on a larger scale.

Technology Paradigm Shifts How We Work

by Eric Tsai

We are in the middle of a second major paradigm shift in IT (information technology).  This is not about simply going from web1.0 to web2.0, but something that’s going to have a major impact on how we work. I am referring to the disruptive force of “cloud computing.

I’ve been focusing on brand strategies in the technology sector for quite some time now and I’ve seen some resemblance in cloud computing hype similar to that of social media on the web.  Further investigation led me to identify some of the underlying implications and the cumulative impact of them on businesses.

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Primary Characteristics

Cloud computing is basically a dynamic computing environment that’s delivered over the internet with on-demand resources that are scalable and flexible. In the old days businesses had to purchase hardware, software and then hire IT staff to manage them.  With cloud computing, you simply pay for the service on a per usage model, as known as software-as-a-service (SaaS).

Benefits: Eliminate the risk of owning and maintaining software, hardware and hiring resources. It allows business to shift from capital expense to operating expense (think of it as leasing instead of buying) typically with little to no upfront costs.

Concerns: Still in the early stage of the hype cycle, unproven ROI, and slim margins.  Market is not completely ready to accept this model, but few early adopters have incorporated cloud with existing infrastructure forming a hybrid hosting model.

Social Media is a dynamic publishing technology that’s highly accessible and scalable taking place on the internet. Traditionally, brands have mostly monologues with their customers via old media such as TV, newspaper, magazines and PR.  With social media, you have real-time dialogues (such as Twitter) that encourage interactions allowing people to connect globally to form relationships.

Benefits: Potentially an inexpensive low barrier to entry marketing vehicle compare to traditional media channel. Allow businesses to expand their reach and own their channel of media distribution. Great for customer relationship management, reputation management, and has the ability to go viral.

Concerns: Also in the early stage of the hype cycle with indirect, difficult to measure ROI.  Consumers aren’t all ready to use social media to communicate with brands, and there is a lack stickiness in user adoption (with the exception of Facebook maybe).  Brands that had success leveraging social media use it in the hybrid marketing model in conjunction with traditional media.

There are some similar characteristics with both cloud computing and social media.  Mainly both are fresh concepts that challenge the traditional mindsets. In addition, both adoptions are accelerated by the current economic downturn forcing companies to reduce financial and operational risks associated with technology (so going with cloud makes more economic sense) while evaluating new ways to market  their products and services (more cost-effective brand strategies).

Frankly I find it interesting that one of the earliest form of cloud computing is ironically the first online social media tool – email.

When I created my very first email account on MSN Hotmail back in 1995, little did I know that’s the first form of cloud computing. Since then I’ve been socializing with family and friends sending emails back and forth, reading replies like comments on a blog post, or simply write short messages in the subject line without content similar to micro-blogging.

Today, email is mostly delivered via the cloud (over the internet) and is arguably the original online social media tool.

Relevance to Businesses

Even in these cost-conscious times, the moniker “trusted advisor” or “trusted brand” still holds value as customer relationship is the top priorities for many businesses. This is why social media became an attractive tool for companies now because it’s all about servicing the customers and optimizing client engagement. End users look to experts to guide them via the decision making process of purchasing branded products and services.

As the IT landscape continues to evolve, we need to rethink how we work, how we sell, the tools we use and the processes we implement.

Nobody wins competing on price alone, even private label brands are thriving by providing excellent value-for-money propositions against premium brands.  We have entered into a new era of converged technologies where IT solutions are driven by business needs and management needs to focus on building meaningful trusted relations moving forward.

The secret is to stay relevant with IT and seek new ways to abstract value out of your business.

This is the time to strengthen your brand and focus on your brand strategy.  Review your operational status and plan for future growth is the key to success when economy starts to rebound.