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?

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.

3 Keys to Improve Your Brand in Social Marketing

by Eric Tsai

Many businesses continue to operate under the assumption that a website, a basic product offering or great brochure will bring profits and revenue to their bottom line. Those days are over.  Brands are now crossing over into the hybrid marketing era that incorporates some form of social media.

You already know the importance of product, price, placement and promotion, but none of that matters without people. People is what build relationship and creates opportunities.  And that’s exactly what social media has added: the fifth “P” of marketing.

Whether your brand provides information products, consumer goods or services, one thing still remains the same: the most effective marketing is still word-of-mouth (WOM).

WOM generates buzz and it gets passed along over and over and over again in a highly influential way. It’s how friends tell friends about the things that excite them or what business owners tell other business owners on what works for their business.

According to the latest Nielsen Global Consumer Survey: 90% of consumers said they trust recommendations from people they know, while 70% trusted consumer opinions posted online.
trust_in_advertising

It’s indicative that all forms of advertising retains certain level of pervasiveness to them. In the case of WOM, it contributes to instant social proof and is particularly effective in social media.

Consider social media the new viral marketing tactic and will typically involve the following steps in launching a campaign:

An effective message: How you position your brand and the message you’re trying to get across.  Knowing your audience (the influencers, decision makers) is the key to build a winning message.  It’s all about getting the right message to the right people while being authentically efficient.  Communication is the heart of your customer acquisition and engagement strategies, the key is fostering a high quality relationship that aims to build long-term value: the foundation of a trusted connection.

A targeted channel: Although many brands are still utilizing traditional media outlets, ideally you want to target the most cost-effective channel that’s appropriate for your brand.  Social network advertising channel is rapidly becoming the favor platform for brands because online advertising is cheaper compared to other mediums such as TV and print and is far more targeted.  With that said, face-to-face interaction is still the top channel for people engagement.  Nothing will ever replace the old fashioned hand shake, a lunch or even that discovery phone call.

A viral network: Social media has created a new instantaneous viral network, Facebook has more than 250 million users and Twitter has 20 million growing more than 1000% year over year.  There are other social networks you can tap in such as LinkedIn or even the blogsphere.  The point is your customers are already on those networks connected and connecting with other like-minded individuals, sharing and commenting in groups with detail profiles and pictures.  Consider social network that’s a directory with the domino effect.

Now that you’ve got your killer message and a channel to distribute it, how do you get the viral network to be, well, viral?

The answer is simple: you need to be trusted.

Relationships And Conversations

In order to be trusted, you need to build influence on your audiences’ terms and be truly authentic in sharing and informing.  I’ve discussed being authentic before so I won’t get into the detail again, but recently I’ve found that there are some low level engagement that are both ineffective and deceiving.

In a recent article “Who cares about your news”, Valeria Maltoni clearly illustrated the problem with inadequate engagement and I encourage you to read her post.  In fact, I too received similar email from Gary Vaynerchuk’s publicist on July 9:

Hey, this is xxx from xxx. I’m working with Gary Vaynerchuk to help promote his new book: Crush It: Why Now Is the Time To Cash In on Your Passion.  Because the book deals heavily with social media strategy and branding, which is obviously something this blog talks about as well, we thought it might be something you’d be interested in checking out…

Ironically on the same day I received another email from a personal branding expert which I will not disclose here asking me to boost his rating on Amazon:

…my book, xxx, is being sabotaged on Amazon.com. Basically, 5 people are giving it bad ratings, just to be negative and then at the end of each review where it says “Was this review helpful to you?”, they (and their friends) are selecting “yes,” which pushes up those negative ratings to the top and hurts the brand of the book.

As a favor to me, could you please go to Amazon link here and press “no” under the bad reviews and “yes” under the good reviews…

Honestly, I wasn’t offended but rather disappointed with the meaningless connection attempts by both media “celebrities.” Not only do they have a large following, they’re also role models to many. It’s obvious that both emails wanted me to do something but why would I care about someone that doesn’t care about me?  Have they read my blog or know what their readers are about? Is it all about selling books?

You simply have to apply those questions to your audience to start thinking about the meaning in your engagement.  Often time it will lead to questioning the value of your product and the impact of your offering.

People can be impressed easily but that doesn’t mean they’ll act on it to buy your product or do what you’ve asked.  You’re audience can be your best word-of-mouth marketing campaign but that comes from within the quality of the engagement.

As a marketer myself I understand the “selling” tactics but it only works best if you bring value to the connection and develop a consistent long-term relationship with your audience.

Why waste the time to reach out if you aren’t ready to have a meaningful conversation?

Owning The Social Distribution Network

Social media is about having a presence then connecting and sharing meaningful information with your audience for the long haul.  I’ve covered the pillar strategies in “7 Keys to Creating Social Media Strategy for Your Brand” as a high-level overview, so now let’s look the desired outcome of branding in social media.

social_marketing_network

Conceptually, you are the center of the network universe and social media is the tool that enables you to build a community around a product or service in forging your brand’s marketing distribution channel. Once you’ve earn the trust, it spreads like WOM marketing expanding to all directions reaching your potential prospects.

Whether you have a brilliant product or the perfect message, developing your channel takes time and precision while owning it takes relentless focus on your audience’s ongoing needs.

The downside to the network is that it can work against you destroying your reputation just as fast. This means knowing your brand strategy in social marketing will be extremely important to maintain the sphere of trust.

Here are 3 keys to improve your brand while marketing in social media:

1) Move the “free” line
If you want to be part of the decision making process, you need to be considered as a key opinion leader or resource. Supply your audience with free resources such as reports, statistics and guides that can help elevate your perceived expertise.  With the amount of information on the internet today, your audience can find almost anything but if you can quantify the information that leads to a path of knowledge enrichment, you will certainly earn a few brownie points to be considered as the prime candidate. Google does this very well with their how-to videos extending their brand with social learning.

Your customer will compare before they a purchase anyway so why not give them a reason to start liking you because you’ve willing to share the wealth. If the free information you provide is valuable, you’re already a step ahead of your competition not to mention that you’re turning them into your “A” customers by providing all the necessary training and education.

2) Crowdsource for improvements
While the success of your brand’s often comes down to the effectiveness of your message, it pays to ask questions.  Companies like Starbucks, Best Buy and Pizza Hut are all using customer feedback to improve product innovation and service experience. Starbucks even let’s their customers suggest on new product ideas. Social marketing shouldn’t just be about the outbound messages; it’s an ongoing dialogue to better serve your audience.

The customers that give you feedback are often your most loyal customers so why not reward them by fulfilling a few of their suggestions.  Keep in mind that providing what they want should not be the main source of innovation, rather it’s a good starting point.

3) Embrace brand transparency
People appreciate honesty and integrity so all you have to do is stay consistent and admit when you’re wrong.  If you try to twist the truth, you’ll not last long and people won’t forget manipulations and deceptions.

This can be seen by how Major League Baseball players are forgiven about steroid use if they admit their wrongdoing rather than lie about it. The players that got caught were all given a chance to show their remorse, the ones that lied never get to play the game again because they simply can not be trusted.

In addition, when you show progress or improvement as a brand, your customer will empathize with you for the openness and sincerity. Similar to the examples I gave above on the two media celebrities, if they actually took time to get to know me, I may very well assist them with their requests, but now it’s back to square one again.

How are you improving your brand in social media?  What kind of success did you have with your social marketing efforts?  I’d like to know your thoughts.

How Social Media is Transforming Business

by Eric Tsai

Lately I’ve been researching on how brands are using social media to improve their business.

While doing a bit of thinking on social branding, I recalled a conversation I had with a friend that just launched a web2.0 startup business.

The one advice I gave was to launch it as soon as possible without worrying too much on branding.

The idea is to deploy your initial idea and allow your users to tell you how to evolve the product.

That’s how majority of the new web startups utilize crowdsourcing with an emphasis on the power users then really listen to what they have to say.

The brand development aspect of a startup isn’t as important as the initial user experience.

It got me thinking about business models and how more and more companies are finding it necessary to transform their business model due to the economic crisis.

In addition, the shift in consumer behavior will cause brands to adjust to a fundamentally altered playing field.

In most cases brands will find it hard to transform themselves unless they’ve already got a flexible, dynamic long-term strategy that embraces change.

This means dismantling silo culture within the organization while fostering cross-functional collaboration to spark fresh thinking.

Brands that have this fluid approach are more likely to adapt to change through uncertainty.

Brand Fluidity Creates Advantage

In my previous article “The Emerging Trend of Hybrid Marketing Model,” I pointed out that hypercompetition is no longer allowing businesses to have a sustained competitive advantage, so the idea approach for brands is to have an agile business model.

This happens consistently in the tech industry where every 3-5 years technology evolves and often improves (1.0 to 2.0) leading to a need for adoption.

The key is to stay flexible and scalable because products, services, and business models will evolve over time as knowledge becomes ubiquitous which leads to the path of commoditization altogether.

Just look at the costs of electronics, web hosting, printing, or even internet bandwidth have dropped in price in the past 10 years. In fact, not only are they cheaper, you get more for less even with inflation.

By having an nimble business model, it’s possible to build brand momentum that has relevance in addressing consumer needs.

And relevance is a good predictor of short and long-term success.

However, more focus should be put on proven short-term tactics that aligns with long-term goals.

Short-Termism Is Not Sustainable

The eruption of social media has forced brands to incorporate this new tactical tool as part of the overall brand strategy playbook.

This is indicative of the validity from companies like Intel, IBM, eBay and Wall Street Journal that have moved quickly to publish social media guidelines for their employees.

In a structured brand ecosystem, social media is an unproven short-term scheme because it will continue to evolve as an ongoing, living tool that facilitates real time dynamic conversations.

I’m not denying the success that some brands are having in social media but in general most brands are still trying to figure out the arc of its trajectory in pursing the adequate usage of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even blogs.

Brands that quickly jump on the bandwagon without defining the desire outcome are focusing on short-term solutions that are simply band-aids not cures.

Coupled with a lack of attention to the overall strategy, fundamentals, and conventional approaches to long-term value, it’s simply not a sustainable model.

What’s important is to create an unambiguous structure for brand fluidity while maintaining energy and involvement throughout the organization.

The transformation extends well beyond tactics. Brands must become more engaging by being more social, this means building meaningful relationships that resonates with their audience.

Social Media Accelerates Upstream Reciprocity

Every relationship has a purpose especially on the increasing social web. What social media demands is trust and authenticity.

I see it as doing what you promise and be consistent especially in transactional business. In a recent article “Altruism Repays the Best-Connected Individuals” from Technology Review published by MIT, stated that:

Unselfish behavior spreads through society in a way that most benefits the “hubs” in the network.

The article basically illustrated how being unselfish will benefit you at the end because those who have been helped will likely to go on to help others, then spreads through a group creating the upstream reciprocity phenomenon.

There is actually an entire study done with formulas to support the phenomenon and you can go read the “Upstream reciprocity and the evolution of gratitude” analysis from U.S. National Library of Medicine if you like.

reciprocity_stream
I found the information fascinating because it mimics the structure of a social network.

Apply this concept to social media and you’ll realize that you’re the red dot A and everyone else is dots B and C. Imagine altruism can be any form of your direct or indirect influence in social media.

It could be the content on your blog, tweets you’ve answered, or even products and services you’ve sold (ebooks, videos, webinars, web design, copywriting, consulting, etc).

The takeaway is social media accelerates both upstream and downstream reciprocity especially for reputable individuals.

In business, the act of unselfishness is another form of the Freemium business model. And this immediately hit home with me on how social media is transforming the way companies are doing business.

You can no longer neglect your reputation online because that’s where the conversation about you is taking place.

Social Transformation

Social media has evolved to be the hub for instant and viral reciprocation for any organization’s internal structure and external engagement.

The power of its reach and the openness of its platform commands the kind of transparency that challenges your core value proposition.

It really doesn’t depend on the wisdom of gurus or experts for its dynamism.

That’s the primary reason it will almost certainly withstand the “it’s a fed” challenge.

Social media is transforming businesses and it matters.

From Twitter to Facebook and every web2.0 tool in between, consumers are more and more concerned with the integrity and intent of the brands they interact with, while employees are less afraid to expose how companies work internally.

The challenge for marketers is not to merely appear engaged, but to actually be engaged – to live up to the promise and deliver.

I hope this is helpful in uncovering the implications of social media in business, it’s important to identify the fundamentals and rethink the overall picture.

I know I haven’t analyze any of the specific social media tools in detail, but you can simply conduct a Twitter or LinkedIn search to find every possible tactic and how-to’s out there by the so-called “experts.”

Interview with an Expert: Anne Simons of Brandeo

by Eric Tsai

Today, I spoke with Anne Simons, who is the blogger behind Brandeo and the President of TBD Brand Ventures.

In this interview, Anne talks about what brands are doing today to stay competitive, her perspective of social media on branding, and advice for marketing professionals.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

The Emerging Trend of Hybrid Marketing Model

by Eric Tsai

A day after my last post on how traditional media is deteriorating, Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer speaking at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, argued that traditional media will not bounce back, all content consumed will be digital, we can debate if that may be in one, two, five or ten years.

In some respect the context of Ballmer’s statement is indicative of the fact that advertising revenues continue to shift to where the interaction is taking place – online.

There is definitely a shift in consumer behavior as the online experience, through social media, becomes more acceptable, accessible and affordable.

Keep in mind that social media in nature has low barrier to entry with the lack of gatekeeping process.

This is a double edge sword providing that content can be generated rapidly but the quality is dramatically reduced.

The message of social media is totally radical, pervasive, and decentralized while the content of social media focuses on the concept of crowdsourcing defined via Wikipedia as “the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals.”

That’s what’s carrying out the new social media revolution because it’s basically an extension of our sense of voice with instant speed for community-based design.

During Jeff Pulver’s 140 Characters Conference, Chris Weingarten of Rolling Stone made a great point: Crowdsourcing kills art because crowds have terrible taste! If you let people decide then nothing truly adventurous ever gets out.

I couldn’t put it better myself.

People stop asking why information gets delivered and the quality of them.

Typically authorities have a quality assurance process in sequence and in concatenation to produce high quality, relevant content.

What we must do on the receiving side is to continue to question the legitimacy and integrity of the source.

Social media allows us to connect horizontally across each other with relative ease, but just as Jeremiah Owyang recently pointed out that human don’t scale which questions the authenticity of top social media bloggers and news blogs.

This is very true in a sense that because we don’t scale, we’re only able to consume limited amount of information combine with short attention span, it’s a race to absorb as much as possible in a short period of time.

This propelled the publishers to publish rapidly; furthermore the increasing competition has put a sense of urgency pressure to compete for the same audience.

Ultimately the brand that can scale and remains relatively authentic perception-wise will be the ones to profit the most.

Hypercomptition To Hybrid Marketing

Hybrid Marketing

There is no sustained competitive advantage anymore according to Richard D’Aveni, professor of business strategy at the Amos Tuck School at Dartmouth College. He argues that advantage is continually created, eroded, destroyed and recreated through strategic maneuvering.

I found this particularly interesting because that’s what’s going on with the traditional media landscape.

Traditional media rules and orders can’t be applied perfectly under the new regime of communication (social media) and thus formations of authorities are under attack from these new forms of expression.

Simply put, it’s not a technological argument but the outcome from social and cultural conditions.

Think how content is produced, reproduced, distributed and consumed – more people are adjusting to the “new way of doing things” abandoning the old ones which leads to the permanent shift in behavior.

However, marketer should not disregard traditional media altogether, but combine traditional media with social media to form an integrated strategy or the “hybrid marketing” model.

In the hybrid marketing model, it’s about drawing a business model that works within the ecosystem of your brand.

The key is to have a fluid approach in creating a meaningful dialog with your market. Instead of focusing on what marketing tactics to use strategize on aligning your brand strategy with your business goals and view social media as one of the arsenal to choose from.

I believe this is a more practical approach and allows for integrated efforts for companies with branding 1.0 infrastructure to transition into branding 1.5 strategies because there is no point in applying branding 2.0 strategies if the infrastructure is not ready for it.

The idea is that the marketing strategy will streamline with the resources creating the desire outcomes that are measurable. Brands must consider the costs associate with deployment, control, and management to sustain such strategy.

There is a place for the shrinking traditional media. It will continue to evolve based on how we act and react to technology.

However, it won’t be technology that drives the outcome of the new media, but the cultural value of intellectual property and how it gets produced and consumed.

What’s your marketing strategy?

Perhaps you’re already utilizing hybrid marketing in your business model, share your thoughts here.

3 Ways to Capitalize on the Destruction of Traditional Media and Embrace Social Media

by Eric Tsai

If you’re part of the social media movement, you’re witnessing the annihilation of traditional media.

From newspapers to cable TV, everything is converging onto the internet resulting in a more accessible, cost-effective and integrated media.

Let’s look at some statistics courtesy of Sillicon Alley Insider:

Newspaper

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– “Print ad sales fell 30% year-over-year in Q1, led by a 42% year-over-year drop in classified ad sales.

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– “Newspaper classified revenues peaked above $16 billion in 2005, only to plummet to an estimated $5 billion or so in 2009.

Cable TV

chart-cable-tv

– “A Bernstein survey says 35% of Web video watchers might dump their cable TV provider in favor of online video within 5 years.

Internet

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– “Some 63% of adult Americans had broadband Internet at home in April, up from 55% last May, according to the Pew Internet & American Life project.

wireless-only-households

– “By the end of 2008, 20% of U.S. households had unplugged their landline phones and gone exclusively wireless, say surveys by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. That’s a huge increase from early 2005, when only about 7% of U.S. households were wireless-only.

The Bigger Picture

Although the current recession has contributed to the decline of newspaper subscriptions and the increase in people viewing online videos; the truth of the matter is we’re no longer accessing or consuming information the same way.

This translates to a less effective advertising channel for brands and the bulk of the advertising dollars will be spent where consumers are spending their time – the web.

Furthermore, the convergence of technology has weakened the foundation of traditional media authorities especially those that didn’t have an immediate online strategy.

Even those with web1.0 strategy, the rapid expansion into web2.0 has left some without a social media strategy.

One thing is clear – internet will continue to grow as the cost of broadband continues to drop.

This means more people will have faster internet and faster internet takes us a step closer to the real-time web.

What does this mean to you?

It means instant access to data across the web with a massive coordination effort from social media.

Mass Amateurisation of Brands through Social Media

The rise of social media tools such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Digg, and many other social networking sites has accelerated the spread of simplified media technologies, making it easy for anyone to access, participate, and share information.

Social media in particular is leading the way on what web commentator Clay Shirky called “the mass-amateurisation of everything.

It is now possible for individuals to choose from a wide variety of communication arsenals outside of the mainstream commercial system to reach the mass audience.

As a result of this ubiquity of social media, individually created media content that originated on the internet has started to infect mass media.

This not only challenges the traditional media authorities, but it also created dynamic conversations across the globe.

Take the latest Iran incident as an example, Twitter was the fastest medium to report what had happened as it was happening before any other traditional media could get to it.

It enabled people all over the world to rapidly react to this piece of news and participate in support and interact with the people in Iran.

Take social bookmark sites like Digg, and Delicious for example, users are encouraged to “vote” for the top content they want to appear for maximum exposure.

These services aggregates content across the web to determine what content is popular making it easy to filter for individuals.

It’s like real-time TV/radio rating and you can simply choose from a list of categories within your interest.

In addition, there is now an element of choice and coordination to establish a new content authority.

You no longer have limitations on what’s available from newspaper or what’s on TV; you have millions of content to choose from or you can create your own.

This applies to blogs as well because you only have so much time to consume information, reading from one source means not reading from another.

As a result, blogs are taking readers away from authority sites and turning them into loyal subscribers.

If you’re reading this post, either you’re a new reader or a regular subscriber to my RSS or newsletter.

3 Ways to Capitalize on Social Media

In many ways, social media is still at the “technology trigger” aspect of the hype cycle. If you can capitalize on it, you will benefit by capitalizing on the destruction of traditional media.

Here are 3 ways to capitalize on this opportunity:

1. Expose your personality – Social media is a one-to-many interaction medium, it’s the perfect platform to personify your brand and build a fan base.

Demonstrate your expertise is important but showing your personality can be the difference between choosing to engage with you versus others. This will ultimately convert visitors to fans, transform viewers to participants.

Give your audience a reason to engage by revealing your emotions and even political stance will help you to stand out, be a person not a company and have fun.

Remember, it’s impossible to be liked by everyone and you won’t be anyway, the key is to create synergy with those that like you in order to foster trust.

A great example is the CEO of Zappos who updates his every move via Twitter with what he does and how he interacts with his employees, creating a personable, likeable, transparent identity that everyone can relate to.

2. Drive engagement and visibility – One of the disadvantages of traditional media is the limitation of engagement opportunities.

This is different in social media. You can create your own opportunity to be “high touch” with your audience by sending update notifications, creating a poll, asking to join your group, conducting an offline event, or promoting a cause.

Combine engagement with marketing through conversation will reduce resistance to you brand’s message.

As a result, your fans will become your best evangelists. However, there is a fine line between a prolifically active brand and an annoy spammer.

The key is to become a good listener and allow conversations to come to you before reacting swiftly.

If you do it right, you will succeed in coordinating a massive word-of-mouth campaign, a sharing frenzy across all social media platform that increases your brand loyalty.

Get it wrong, you will need to put out the fire with reputation management strategies.

I recommend having different social media accounts to provide a focused-orientated engagement strategy.

Dell is the best example for this as the company has more than 30 Twitter accounts that they use to communicate to very specific audiences.

Ford also got more than 7 Twitter channels to handle customer service and reputation management.

3. Leverage multimedia and mobile platforms – As I’ve mentioned before, all media has converged onto the internet so why not use all of them to maximize the experience.

You can easily create your own podcast now, load it up to iTune or deliver it in mp3 format.

For images, you can use Yahoo’s Flickr, Google’s Picasa, or Twitpic to share it on Twitter.

By far the most powerful multimedia content is the use of videos through YouTube or Viemo.

Although still limited by network and bandwidth, there are a few “live” video streaming social media tool that’s making headways specifically UStream.tv, Blip.tv and Justin.tv.

Not only do people respond different via a variety of media formats enabling a broader reach, there is an increasing demand for location-based interaction as well.

Thanks for iPhone and BlackBerry, mobile web content delivery is now an important consideration of a brand’s social media marketing strategy.

The cost of mobile broadband will continue to drop enabling mobile rich-media content to be produced and distributed anywhere.

The exciting part about mobile content is the ability to target location based users then engages them with relevant content.

Are you capitalizing on the rapid growth of Social Media?

Or do you still believe in traditional media?

Why You Should Always Be True to Your Brand

by Eric Tsai

Recently I’ve had great conversations with other brand strategists about the changing landscape in brand building.  There is no doubt that social media is having a profound impact on brands in all fronts of marketing, advertising, PR, and networking.

The core value of social branding is about fostering the “trusted” relationship from experiences associated with a service, a person or an entity.  This is largely built on the effectiveness of the brand’s ability to communicate and influence people’s perception.

Today social media aims to bridge the gap between brands and people by providing a platform that embraces the concept of a community. It’s a new stage for brands to engage and interact with their audience.  But one thing remains the same, there is always a challenge involve when it comes to creating and delivering value.  Therefore, it is vital that brands demonstrate the indisputable benefits to their audience.

Strategies Vs Tactics

Described by the Chinese General, Sun Tzu:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Simply put, tactics present a small picture perspective. They’re tools to fulfill your big picture strategy. Branding is not about using tactics such as scarcity, sense of urgency, risk reversal and value-for-price positioning.  How about email campaigns, search engine optimization, product placements, celebrity endorsements, promotional events, telemarketing, or direct response advertising?  Think again. They’re the vehicles that carry out the messages and to generate and funnel leads.

If you know what I’m talking about, you know those are techniques often used by marketers.  In fact, I help clients implement those tactics regularly as part of the overall plan to achieve the stated goals.  They can often be confused as strategies because within tactics there is also an element of strategy.

brand-strategyI see tactics as marketing triggers to gain attention, the “Hey! Look at me, I’ve got something important to say!”  And when you gain people’s attention you must provide relevant and tangible value that’s meaningful to fulfill their expectations.  And believe me, people have expectations when they give you a chance to deliver.

Brand Authenticity

Once you get that opportunity, it all boils down to the execution (tactic) and the authenticity of your brand (strategy).  Execution focuses on conversion tactics while brand authenticity focuses on value-extraction strategies.  An authentic brand fulfills the implied promise that people have come to expect.   And by doing so, the brand becomes more believable and trustworthy creating the foundation to build a relationship.  As a result, you need to exposed the true intention behind your tactics.

Let’s take a look at brand slogans as examples.  Walmart’s slogan of “Save Money, Live Better” says nothing about the quality of products it sells nor does Taco Bell’s “Think Outside The Bun” implies to what’s inside the bun.  However, Porsche’s “There Is No Substitute” or Rolex’s “The Crown Of Achievement” both allude to a sense of novelty and dominance.  These brands stay true to their slogans without suggesting artificial statements about their products.  Of course there is always a gap between what consumers expect versus what brands imply, the trick is to narrow the gap by being authentic.

By simply being authentic, brands that focus on fostering a healthy relationship with their customers will increase the chance of stimulating an action to buy.  This is the outcome brands desire, turning prospects into lifetime customers. For personal brands, it’s turning speculators to fans.

Create Your Brand Value Proposition

It doesn’t matter if you’re building your business brand or personal brand, you should create a brand value proposition.  These values act as the blueprint to create your brand strategy so you can stay consistent, cohesive and most importantly unique. By having a solid brand value proposition you will be efficient in implementing your marketing tactics. Even if you’re selling a product with lots of competition, knowing your value will allow you to be creative in finding new ways to execute those tactics.

Hers are 3 simple ways to help you identity your brand value proposition:

1. Know your audience and identify their pain points – This may sound easy but I often see companies sell too broad because they want to sell to as many customers as possible .  This is a false perception because you can not be all things to everybody, follow the 80/20 rules and focus on the 20% of customers that generates 80% of your revenue.  The key is to understand the decision maker’s psychology.  Things that matters to a manager may mean nothing to a CEO that makes the final decision. This is typical in the technology industry where companies often sell features to department managers instead of outcome to owners or executives.  Great attributes mean little when the audience is looking for the bottom line impact. Identify all the scenarios to describe the situation where you come in and solve the problem, alleviate the pain.  Keep in mind that you want the “ideal customer” that already has a need for what you provide.

2. Describe what you do and what you don’t do – Write down your competencies that represent what you offer.  Focus on key words or phrase to capture what makes your brand special.  Make it simple and use verbs that express an action or a relation between two things.  Be plain and straight forward, if your company sells software start with “we sell software” not something like “we increase sale for businesses with an innovative software application.”

3. Create your brand message and test them – Once you have some core messages to work with from the two above steps it is time to test them.  Get inputs from internal and external stake holders, what you think and care about may not be what others see or remember.  That’s okay. You just need to learn to drive home a few key points that will stick in their minds and inspire them to learn more. It’s more effective in an initial interaction to pare down what you talk about to weed out the non-essential information. The idea is to have different talking points tailored to different audiences. It’s important to constantly update and improve your value proposition so it stays fresh and relevant.

Now go create your brand value proposition and use them as the foundation of your bio or company description on your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg accounts or post them on your Blog .

Do you have a brand value proposition?  Are they authentic?  Share it right here and get some feedback!

7 Keys to Creating Social Media Strategy for Your Brand

by Eric Tsai

In the past few weeks I’ve experienced a decent amount of spam from social networking sites ranging from people marketing their books, selling “make money online” information, to promoting their personal brand.

It’s indicative of the fact that individuals and businesses are viewing the space seriously as it takes on the mainstream spotlight.

There are many ways to utilize social media to boost your brand.  The key is to have a strategy around building your social proof.

Let The Truth Be Told

People naturally look for social proof in any given situation.

Social proof is a weapon of influence by which we replicate what we see others do.  We tend to make assumptions in our head when we’re unable to determine the appropriate action to take.
So we turn to surrounding authorities that we assume possess more knowledge about the situation than us.

For example, if you see a bunch of people lining up outside of a restaurant you tend to think the food is good or better yet, it MUSTbe good.

Social proof is especially powerful in social media because of the available information from Twitter followers to LinkedIn connections.  People get influenced real-time on their PCs or their mobile devices.

This creates little barrier to entry for people to be perceived as preeminent experts.  Combine that with the limitless reach of social network; people will often evaluate others based on how “connected” they are.

The truth is – social media is a platform for engagement and building communities.

It has evolved to be part of a marketer’s arsenal and it’s on the path to be the next coming of email spam.

If you don’t want to be perceived as a spammer or someone just looking to gain free social proof, you need a solid strategy for your brand.

Aligning Your Brand And Business Strategy

There are lots of high profile people and companies using social media today but not all of them are getting the result they want.

Many brands are doing a fairly good job utilizing the right social media strategy while others clearly have no clue.

Here are 7 keys to create your social media strategy:

1. Define your outcome

This is perhaps the most important aspect of your social media strategy.

What are you trying to achieve?

What is your ideal outcome? Sales?

Lead generation? Promotions? Branding? Buzz?

Corporate brands generally use social media as part of their larger strategic initiatives for reputation management, product launches, and customer engagement tools.

Those methods apply to personal branding as well because social media is a cost-effective marketing and PR vehicle in comparison to the traditional media marketing.

2. Focus on your audience’s needs

If you want to sell a product such as a book across social media, you must focus on your audience’s pain point, solve their problems, and add value to them little by little.

Provide free advice that’s of high value, NOT something anyone can just copy and paste from a source like a blog.

For example, instead of relaying mainstream news, focus on syndicating news gear towards a specific niche area so you become the go-to source for it.

Better yet, compile the content and provide your own insight so you act as a filter for your audience.

3. Implement measurable ROI

This is actually difficult to do because social media is still a relatively new medium and remains largely unproven.

The best solution is to gauge the time spent versus the result you are able to measure such as inbound traffic, clickthroughs, impressions, comments, fans, followers, subscribers, and ask how prospects find you.

Track your data and chart them over time to find relevant cause and effects.

You may be surprise to find what people are saying about your brand or how effective your marketing triggers are after reviewing your statistics.

4. Actively participate in discussion groups

If you have something valuable to offer, people should know.

Join discussions and participate in forums will bring you opportunities to brand yourself and create awareness in the form of constructive promotion.

Further more by providing your audience with insights, educational content, or value support systems will help you gain social proof.

Knowledge transfer in social media is very powerful especially given as freebies.  As a result it creates reciprocation from the recipient who will want to return the favor in the form of purchasing your product or endorsing your brand.

5. Get in front of the right people

High profile people are great leverage to give you that boost of traffic especially key opinion leaders in your niche area.

Get in touch with them and do something for them first.

Contribute to their cause and the reciprocation factor will work on them as well.  Instead of asking for endorsements, participate in their discussion groups, leave comments on their blog, send them useful information, and interact with their channel are all ways to gain visibility.

Build the right relationship will also drive The Long-Tail affect in which your brand impression will be distributed amongst high profile people’s fans in significant numbers.

6. Blend online and offline social networking

This is one of the overlooked areas for social networking.

Offline networking can add more fuel to the fire especially when people aren’t able to hide behind their user name, emails or avatars.

There is nothing quite like a face-to-face conversation to get a nice dialogue started.

Not only can you hear the voice of the other person but the body language, eye contact, and physical interaction in the same space makes you more “real” and believable.

Although it can be time consuming, offline networking is more powerful than 140 words in a tweet or a two liner comment in Facebook.

It also encourages word-of-mouth marketing which is by far the most effective marketing tool today.

I highly recommend you to attend conferences, go to tradeshows, take a training course, or get with other social networkers locally.  Start a MeetUp group or a monthly seminar.

7. Nurture relationships, build momentum

When implanting social media strategies, you may wan to run tests to get feedback from your network.

You should stay true to yourself but also know what worked and what doesn’t.

Ideally you want to keep doing what works and find new ways to strengthen your relationship with your audience.

Start your own discussion group, do an online survey, create joint ventures, exchange opportunities, and continue to provide free information are all ways to foster your social media relationships.

Nothing will happen when nothing is provided and you must be patient before you get results.

Whether you’re already on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or is blogging on a regular basis, my best advice is to just let go and keep on giving!

Has social media already helped your business?