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Abstract and Figures

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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54
DEVELOPMENT
Ralf Beuker, Professor,
Design Management,
University of Applied
Sciences, Münster,
Germany
Erik Roscam Abbing,
Founder, Zilver,
Rotterdam,
The Netherlands
Interestingly, while the audience
turnover for blogs, Facebook,
YouTube, and similar sites is
very large, that doesn’t seem to
compromise their potential con-
tributions to various corporate
objectives.
55
© 2010 The Design Management Institute
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 dif-
ferent metrics apply, and that the con-
tent that is shared, and the interaction
between the brand and its custom-
ers, is central. is 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.
at said, the goal of this article
is threefold. It will provide you with
centage of returning customers (the
retention rate); rather, it’s the content
that people generate on them—blog
posts, photos, videos, conversations,
and material for special interest
groups. is 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,
In 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—it’s nei-
ther the mere presence of the service
that makes it valuable nor the per-
1. David Martin, “Twitter Quitters Post Roadblock to
Long-Term Growth. Nielson Online. April 28, 2009.
Two Faces of Social Media:
Brand Communication and
Brand Research
by Ralf Beuker and Erik Roscam Abbing
The Impact of Social Media on Service and Product Brands
56
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 brand’s product or
service experience.
We could continue with these
gures, but essentially it is our
viewpoint that there is one key mes-
sage 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. ese
can also make or break it.4 A very
simple example of the power of digital
crowds can be found at http://brand-
tags.net. is 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
brand’s 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.
It’s also noteworthy that 69
percent of the Razorsh respondents
have provided feedback to a brand,
through either the brand’s website
or a third-party service like GetSat-
isfaction.com. Interestingly enough,
this level of engagement is consis-
4. Ibid.
a) a more dierentiated view of social
media; b) a guide to how to use social
media not only for brand communi-
cation 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.
Social media and brand
Over the past few years, we seem to
have accepted the notion that activi-
ties 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 Razorsh2) conrm
that brands can proactively start and
steer these conversations with consid-
erable impact.3
Indeed, according to this same
research, even without any specic
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 experi-
ence inuenced whether or not they
eventually purchased a product or
service from that brand. Digital is
not only a place to build a brand: it
2. Garrick Schmitt. “The Data. From FEED: Wayward
Thoughts on the Evolution of Digital Brand Experiences”
(Razorfish blog). Available at: http://feed.razorfish.com.
3. The basis for the data was a representative survey of
1,000 US consumers with high-speed Internet access,
conducted in August 2009.
23.5%
43.5%
6.3%
22.7%
3.5%
0.4%
I am a current customer
Exclusive deals or offers
Other people I know are fans of the brand
Interesting or entertaining content
Service, support, or product news
Other
What is the primary reason you follow a brand on Twitter?
What is the primary reason you follow a brand on Twitter?
Figure 1. Deals are by far the biggest reason fans engage with brands on the social web.
Two Faces of Social Media: Brand Communication and Brand Research
57
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 oer (that is, what we have”)
in exchange was more dicult. 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 oer to the
consumer. Such an approach often
leads to the following chain reaction:
e brand/company identies a
social service or technology that
is currently dominating the news.
A volunteer (ideally someone in
the company’s IT department)
sets up a blog, opens a Twitter ac-
count, or creates a Facebook pro-
le, and then waits for responses
or interaction.
Company management requests
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, be-
havioral patterns, and motivations of
consumers who might engage in dia-
logues with the Mexx brand, and to
understand the nature of the relation-
ship between brand and consumer
that resulted from this behavior. (is
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
might be special discounts, entertain-
ing content, or special services, sup-
port, or news.
Let’s 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.
Keeping Mexx POSTed
Mexx is a clothing manufacturer and
retailer that operates stores around
the world. e company sells cloth-
ing 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
Figure 2. We wondered what kind of deal between brand and consumer would initiate a “conversation.
The Impact of Social Media on Service and Product Brands
58
lifestyles leading to more or less pres-
ence online, and a more or less active
and involved online behavior.
Subsequently, Zilver addressed
the qualitative research by develop-
ing http://www.7daysinmylife.com,
a (closed) online diary environment
based on the technique of cultural
probes5: research instruments cen-
tered around the idea of helping users
reect on their own lives by giving
them the expression tools to do so. In
this case, the expression tool was an
online visual diary, enabling users to
keep a journal for a week, uploading
5. See, for instance, Gaver, W., Dunne, T. and Pacenti, E.,
“Cultural Probes.ACM Interactions, January-February
1999, pps. 21-29.
takes in our work with Mexx. At this
point, we were still unable to answer
the question, What kind of social
media services can we oer that the
xx by Mexx target group would nd
useful, relevant, and valuable?” So the
next thing we did was to invest in
quantitative and qualitative people re-
search in order to nd out what their
online behavior was with regard to
social media, online shopping, and so
on. is might help us to understand
their motivations for connecting with
the brand online.
Here again we turned to the
work of Li and Berno and a tool
they created that classies consumers
into six overlapping levels of partici-
pation in the social web.
Based on a Forrester
Research survey of the
behavioral patterns of
users of social media
services, Li and Berno
were able to map how
participation in social
media varies among
groups of consumers,
globally. We captured
some of that key quan-
titative data on cards
like the one in Figure 3,
thereby trying to clarify
for our client that dif-
ferent people behave
dierently online, and
thus have dierent digital
various metrics to describe the
brand presence’s eect 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 benet or
success, questions like Who are
we targeting with our blog, Twit-
ter 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 frame-
work called POST. Created by
authors Charlene Li and Josh Berno
in their book Groundswell: Winning
in a World Transformed by Social
Technologies, POST (which stands
for people, objectives, strategies, and
technologies) suggests putting the
highest priority on the target audi-
ence and determining what kind of
relationship you want to build with
them, based on what they want and
need in the context of social media.
Note that in the POST framework,
objectives form the basis of strate-
gies. In the bulleted example above,
the company involved gets POST
exactly backwards: technology is the
rst consideration and people aren’t
considered until the last step.
We wanted to avoid those mis-
Index (All adults = 100)
36%Critics
Technographics Profile: Female, 18-24, Europe
Dominant group is SPECTATORS (%).
This group is characterized best as having an over-
proportional number scoring on JOINERS as well.
On another scale, it’s interesting to note that these are
followed by CREATORS.
PEOPLE
31% 221Creators
189
9%Collectors
39%Joiners
63%Spectators
24%Inactives
150
244
129
55
Age: Country: Gender:
18-24 Europe Female
Data from Forrester Research Technographics® sur veys, 2008
Figure 3. Participation in social media varies among groups of consum-
ers. Data from Forrester Research Technographics surveys, 2008.
Two Faces of Social Media: Brand Communication and Brand Research
59
(returning to the POST framework),
focusing the brand communication
we hoped to impart more toward
inspiring the target group than
through actual engagement. For the
brand research that needed to be
done, we decided to focus our eorts
on intensifying contacts in closed
environments, where customers felt it
was safe to respond.
ese objectives resulted in a
three-tiered strategy:
To further develop and use
7daysinmylife.com as a design
research instrument to explore
the target group’s lifestyle and
online behavior
To engage in the exploration of
easily accessible existing social
media platforms (such as Face-
book) and use them to inform
and inspire
To further explore the develop-
ment of dedicated online applica-
tions focused on music since, not
a day with their friends, which was
to be documented in the diary. At
the end of the project, we assembled
the compiled data into a booklet (see
Figure 4).
In essence, what these journals
did was to get a feeling for the online
behavior of the xx by Mexx target
group, while at the same time testing
our own social media platform with
a selected group of customers. For
instance, one key point we took away
from this process was that although
young people seem to share all and
everything online, Mexxs target group
was dierent, more prone to shar-
ing information in a secure, closed
environment. As a matter of fact, the
xx by Mexx target group made rather
passive use of social media, but felt
delighted by the potential the closed
environment gave them to map their
lives in a visual diary.
is newfound understanding
allowed us to rephrase our objectives
images and text (by mobile, email, or
Web) in response to daily questions
and themes, and creating collages
with their data. Typical themes were
shopping, school, work, going out,
friends, and online. Typical questions
within these themes were: what are
you wearing today and why, docu-
ment a shopping afternoon with a
friend, document a cultural activity
with a friend or family, document
which websites you visited, and so on.
We carefully selected end users
on the basis of the brand’s existing
target group prole, and made sure
they were motivated to cooperate
and felt comfortable about sharing
their diaries with us. We did this by
showing genuine interest in them, by
explaining to them why we did the
research, and by being very strict in
keeping the (sometimes personal)
data conned within the small re-
search team. e incentive we gave
them was 100 euros—to be spent on
Figure 4. We took what we had learned from our participant users’ online diaries and assembled it into a booklet for the client.
The Impact of Social Media on Service and Product Brands
60
social web in our nal assessment
and recommendations for Mexx, and
we therefore deliberately avoided a
traditional text-heavy report format.
Instead, we created playful visual
tools that support the client in track-
ing developments on the social web
(Figure 5).
If you take away nothing else
from this article, what you should
know is that the social web can go
beyond simple brand communication
to oer opportunities to stimulate
and facilitate brand research. Bear in
mind, though, that the key to gaining
useful insights from social media is
to start with research into consumer
attitudes and behavior—the people
part—and adapt your objec-
tives, strategies and technolo-
gies accordingly.
Acknowledgements
We’d like to take the op-
portunity to thank Max van
Lingen (former director of
interactive brand marketing at
Mexx International Marketing
Communication, now director
of strategic brand innovation
at Veldhoven Group) for fa-
cilitating this research project
and granting permission for
sharing insights. n
Reprint #10211BEU54
As the phenomenon of social media
continues to evolve…
e examples we’ve shared clearly
represent rst steps. Back in late
2007/early 2008, Twitter, for exam-
ple, did not have the relevance it has
today. Today, 20 percent of all tweets
mention specic brands or products.6
Accordingly, Twitter may start to play
a larger (and more intriguing) role in
stimulating and moving brand strate-
gies forward, much as, say, Facebook
did two years ago.
As part of our consulting ser-
vices, we wanted to acknowledge the
dynamic nature and progress of the
6. “Tweeting Is More than Just Self-Expression.” Penn
State Live (http://live.psu.edu), September 10, 2009.
surprisingly, a common interest
that was very meaningful for the
xx by Mexx target group was
listening to, sharing, and talking
about music
As part of the resulting technolo-
gies, we’ve created a network of city-
life blogs for major European cities,
with Rotterdam as a pilot (http://
www.cityliferotterdam.com). ese
blogs are endorsed by Mexx through
paying the author a small fee and
providing him or her access to such
Mexx-related events as fashion shows.
Otherwise, the content is entirely left
to the author. e Cityblogs are meant
to stimulate or energize consumers to-
ward an interest in fashion rather than
to advertise the brand per se.
We also created a Facebook
research group for Mexx fans—
by invitation only. As with 7days-
inmylife.com, one element of the
group activities oered consisted
of assignments that combined
the use of social media in relation
to fashion, like asking the group
members to upload images of in-
spiring trends or links to inspiring
fashion websites. And a collabo-
ration with Edwin Rooseman
of the digital media consultancy
Nandooh helped us to develop
several interaction concepts based
on a dedicated online Mexx music
library.
Figure 5. We presented our final assessment and recommendations
in the form of playful visual tools that would support Mexx in tracking
developments on the social web.
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