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We wondered what kind of deal between brand and consumer would initiate a “conversation” 

We wondered what kind of deal between brand and consumer would initiate a “conversation” 

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The social web is not just a place to communicate about your brand—it's also a good place to facilitate brand research. But remember that knowing the attitudes and behavior of your target audience comes first.

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Context 1
... April 2009, David Martin of Nielsen Online reported that more than 60 percent of people who sign up for Twitter abandon the service. 1 Based on traditional marketing and branding metrics, most would certainly agree that this indicates a problem. Still, as usual, there are two sides to the story. For most social media services—blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, and the like—its nei- ther the mere presence of the service that makes it valuable nor the per- centage of returning customers (the retention rate); rather, its the content that people generate on them—blog posts, photos, videos, conversations, and material for special interest groups. This content, and its value, is something that is very often neglected in polls like the one mentioned above. You can’t measure such value by the retention rate, as you might with physical services. Retention rate is simply not a relevant metric for Twitter, for example. Consider that its costs are low, and the potential target group is huge. With that in mind, if even 10 percent of its users return, Twitter would still be doing well. For brands that consider using a social media service such as Twitter or Facebook in their marketing mix, it is thus important to realize that different metrics apply, and that the content that is shared, and the interaction between the brand and its customers, is central. This interaction often goes unmentioned in a discussion of brand uses for social-media services. And yet it is exactly this interaction that will allow brands to play to their strengths on the Web. That said, the goal of this article is threefold. It will provide you with a) a more differentiated view of social media; b) a guide to how to use social media not only for brand communication but also for brand research; c) selected insights we have gained as consultants exploring the social web and building a digital brand strategy for Mexx, an international fashion brand. Over the past few years, we seem to have accepted the notion that activities on most social media platforms are driven solely by users/consumers. Although this is not exactly wrong, our experiences (backed up by recent research done by Razorfish 2 ) confirm that brands can proactively start and steer these conversations with consid- erable impact. 3 Indeed, according to this same research, even without any specific actions, “... 65 percent of consumers report having had a digital experience that either positively or negatively changed their opinion about a brand. Of that group, a nearly unanimous 97 percent say that their digital experience influenced whether or not they eventually purchased a product or service from that brand. Digital is not only a place to build a brand: it can also make or break it.” 4 A very simple example of the power of digital crowds can be found at - tags.net. This site is a good illustration of how others play with associations of your brand. It is fascinating to see how simple tag clouds (clustered one- word associations to go with major brands) generated by consumers can provide you with insights about your brands image at the click of a button, and at no cost. Our opinion is that this sort of research is preferable to badly done focus group sessions. Its also noteworthy that 69 percent of the Razorfish respondents have provided feedback to a brand, through either the brands website or a third-party service like GetSat- isfaction.com. Interestingly enough, this level of engagement is consis- tent across all digital channels, thus pertaining to movies on YouTube, postings on corporate blogs, ratings on Amazon, comments on Facebook, and conversations on Twitter. Some 52 percent even posted on their own blogs about a brands product or service experience. We could continue with these figures, but essentially it is our viewpoint that there is one key message for brand management here: Consumers clearly no longer believe that social media sites are a one-way channel, and they are considering the social web as a source of two- way interactions and conversations. However, this does not mean that the social web is about altruistic behavior. On the contrary, the driver for the engagement just described is clearly “deals,” as Figure 1 illustrates. These might be special discounts, entertaining content, or special services, support, or news. Lets continue our exploration by sharing some information about how we’ve dealt with the factors described above and translated them into a set of social media platforms facilitating a sound digital brand strategy. Mexx is a clothing manufacturer and retailer that operates stores around the world. The company sells clothing and accessories for men, women, and children and has been a wholly owned subsidiary of the Liz Clai- borne fashion company since 2001. Zilver Innovation (Erik Roscam Abbing) and Strategy Coaching (Ralf Beuker) have been working with Mexx since 2007, coming together in a joint project with the company to explore “digital conversations” on social networks, something Mexx believed might represent an emerging opportunity in the fashion industry. Our work with Mexx began with an assessment, a characterization of the kind of deal between brand and consumer that might spark the conversation (Figure 2). Our goal was not simply to help Mexx com- municate its brand message via social media. What we wanted instead was to help the company to use social media to get to know its target group better—to understand lifestyles, behavioral patterns, and motivations of consumers who might engage in dia- logues with the Mexx brand, and to understand the nature of the relationship between brand and consumer that resulted from this behavior. (This relationship is based on the exchange of value, as explained in Figure 2.) Mexx hoped to get a holistic picture of its customers in the context of online engagement. To narrow it down, the company decided to focus on xx by Mexx, a Mexx sub-brand for teenagers/tweens. However in contrast to the ideas we were beginning to generate of “what they want,” deciding what we could offer (that is, “what we have”) in exchange was more difficult. From past experience, we know that this is a dangerous decision point, at which many companies and consultants fall into the trap of selecting a social service that is currently in vogue and selling this service as the offer to the consumer. Such an approach often leads to the following chain reaction: The brand/company identifies a social service or technology that is currently dominating the news. A volunteer (ideally someone in the companys IT department) sets up a blog, opens a Twitter account, or creates a Facebook profile, and then waits for responses or interaction. Company management requests various metrics to describe the brand presences effect on the social Web—visitors, number of comments, mentions on other platforms, and so on—assuming this will quantify the success of the venture. Due to a lack of clear benefit or success, questions like “Who are we targeting with our blog, Twitter account, and Facebook group, and why?” slowly begin to surface. Clearly, something has gone wrong in the above chronology. We like to think of this common problem as one that can be easily described in terms of a decision-making framework called POST. Created by authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff in their ...
Context 2
... April 2009, David Martin of Nielsen Online reported that more than 60 percent of people who sign up for Twitter abandon the service. 1 Based on traditional marketing and branding metrics, most would certainly agree that this indicates a problem. Still, as usual, there are two sides to the story. For most social media services—blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, and the like—its nei- ther the mere presence of the service that makes it valuable nor the per- centage of returning customers (the retention rate); rather, its the content that people generate on them—blog posts, photos, videos, conversations, and material for special interest groups. This content, and its value, is something that is very often neglected in polls like the one mentioned above. You can’t measure such value by the retention rate, as you might with physical services. Retention rate is simply not a relevant metric for Twitter, for example. Consider that its costs are low, and the potential target group is huge. With that in mind, if even 10 percent of its users return, Twitter would still be doing well. For brands that consider using a social media service such as Twitter or Facebook in their marketing mix, it is thus important to realize that different metrics apply, and that the content that is shared, and the interaction between the brand and its customers, is central. This interaction often goes unmentioned in a discussion of brand uses for social-media services. And yet it is exactly this interaction that will allow brands to play to their strengths on the Web. That said, the goal of this article is threefold. It will provide you with a) a more differentiated view of social media; b) a guide to how to use social media not only for brand communication but also for brand research; c) selected insights we have gained as consultants exploring the social web and building a digital brand strategy for Mexx, an international fashion brand. Over the past few years, we seem to have accepted the notion that activities on most social media platforms are driven solely by users/consumers. Although this is not exactly wrong, our experiences (backed up by recent research done by Razorfish 2 ) confirm that brands can proactively start and steer these conversations with consid- erable impact. 3 Indeed, according to this same research, even without any specific actions, “... 65 percent of consumers report having had a digital experience that either positively or negatively changed their opinion about a brand. Of that group, a nearly unanimous 97 percent say that their digital experience influenced whether or not they eventually purchased a product or service from that brand. Digital is not only a place to build a brand: it can also make or break it.” 4 A very simple example of the power of digital crowds can be found at - tags.net. This site is a good illustration of how others play with associations of your brand. It is fascinating to see how simple tag clouds (clustered one- word associations to go with major brands) generated by consumers can provide you with insights about your brands image at the click of a button, and at no cost. Our opinion is that this sort of research is preferable to badly done focus group sessions. Its also noteworthy that 69 percent of the Razorfish respondents have provided feedback to a brand, through either the brands website or a third-party service like GetSat- isfaction.com. Interestingly enough, this level of engagement is consis- tent across all digital channels, thus pertaining to movies on YouTube, postings on corporate blogs, ratings on Amazon, comments on Facebook, and conversations on Twitter. Some 52 percent even posted on their own blogs about a brands product or service experience. We could continue with these figures, but essentially it is our viewpoint that there is one key message for brand management here: Consumers clearly no longer believe that social media sites are a one-way channel, and they are considering the social web as a source of two- way interactions and conversations. However, this does not mean that the social web is about altruistic behavior. On the contrary, the driver for the engagement just described is clearly “deals,” as Figure 1 illustrates. These might be special discounts, entertaining content, or special services, support, or news. Lets continue our exploration by sharing some information about how we’ve dealt with the factors described above and translated them into a set of social media platforms facilitating a sound digital brand strategy. Mexx is a clothing manufacturer and retailer that operates stores around the world. The company sells clothing and accessories for men, women, and children and has been a wholly owned subsidiary of the Liz Clai- borne fashion company since 2001. Zilver Innovation (Erik Roscam Abbing) and Strategy Coaching (Ralf Beuker) have been working with Mexx since 2007, coming together in a joint project with the company to explore “digital conversations” on social networks, something Mexx believed might represent an emerging opportunity in the fashion industry. Our work with Mexx began with an assessment, a characterization of the kind of deal between brand and consumer that might spark the conversation (Figure 2). Our goal was not simply to help Mexx com- municate its brand message via social media. What we wanted instead was to help the company to use social media to get to know its target group better—to understand lifestyles, behavioral patterns, and motivations of consumers who might engage in dia- logues with the Mexx brand, and to understand the nature of the relationship between brand and consumer that resulted from this behavior. (This relationship is based on the exchange of value, as explained in Figure 2.) Mexx hoped to get a holistic picture of its customers in the context of online engagement. To narrow it down, the company decided to focus on xx by Mexx, a Mexx sub-brand for teenagers/tweens. However in contrast to the ideas we were beginning to generate of “what they want,” deciding what we could offer (that is, “what we have”) in exchange was more difficult. From past experience, we know that this is a dangerous decision point, at which many companies and consultants fall into the trap of selecting a social service that is currently in vogue and selling this service as the offer to the consumer. Such an approach often leads to the following chain reaction: The brand/company identifies a social service or technology that is currently dominating the news. A volunteer (ideally someone in the companys IT department) sets up a blog, opens a Twitter account, or creates a Facebook profile, and then waits for responses or interaction. Company management requests various metrics to describe the brand presences effect on the social Web—visitors, number of comments, mentions on other platforms, and so on—assuming this will quantify the success of the venture. Due to a lack of clear benefit or success, questions like “Who are we targeting with our blog, Twitter account, and Facebook group, and why?” slowly begin to surface. Clearly, something has gone wrong in the above chronology. We like to think of this common problem as one that can be easily described in terms of a decision-making framework called POST. Created by authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff in their ...

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