Branding

Online Marketing Opportunities With Google Plus

Google Plus launched with fireworks as exemplified in tweets and blogs lately, posing questions to brand marketers, social media folks and SEOs on what it means as a new tool or marketing channel. Its scalable integration with other Google products allows for many ways to easily expand its user base. Though, it still has to resolve the issue of having various accounts for various services. Still even if a small percentage of all active customers from each Google product is converted, the total sum might pose a sizable competition for Twitter and Facebook within the next 1 to 2 years. To which, its early rapid adoption rate of 10 million within 2 weeks of its launch validates this thought. So, it is better to start getting familiar with it today and there are plenty of guides and how-tos and face offs available to do so.

Mashable media site alone has a handy article with 19 resources to start with Google Plus (and also serves as a good sample of smart and timely internal linking optimization).

Among the early adopters of this technology are social media sites and various SEOs from Search Engine Land and beyond. What also is intriguing how aggressive the mainstream media has become to respond to this new technology. Journalists use hangouts right on air time and test audience engagement rates on Google Plus and other networks to get a measurable idea of its value as a channel.

So what are the emerging benefits Google Plus is likely to provide to marketers?

1) It is excellent for SEO and if you have a site and a Facebook like button, make sure you add a Google Plus button to enter the game. Also, I find it only applicable to pages where you have quality content, or already have a Facebook Like button. Adding it to all pages, might be excessive and not useful since there should be a good reason to Plus One the page. It can become a good proxy for you to take stock of your unique content and see how it performs with users: a very good metric given Google Panda updates that gave more weight to sites with quality content.

SEOs also speculate that Google Plus statistics will factor in your site search visibility as much as the clicks to your site from Google SRPs. It especially makes sense with the recent stop of real-time search feature on Google, given its contract expiration. It is very likely that Google will substitute this functionality, previously delivered by Twitter API by Google Plus. See Rand Fishkin’s SEO test on how Twitter and Google + interactions play out in Google search results.

What I also noticed is if you already have writtent about a specific topic and have some presence on Google Plus, your picture and name will show up in the right next to the related post of Google search results. Which has a huge potential for influential experts to stand out and market themselves more effectively. Now, with a face against the search result to aid recognition. So, think first what picture you want to use on Google Plus profile!

There are probably more SEO benefits that are easily visible at this stage. I could see external linking opportunities and use cases to surface within the platform.

2) It is well-suited for targeted messaging. With its massive intent data, and already advertised user base statistics for Google +,  Google is working on a powerful ad platform. Meanwhile, using circles you can communicate with topics very relevant to the custom segments within your circles and enhance your influence on those folks the way you want it. Facebook does not make it easy as of now to custom message to your audiences without making selective messaging so obvious.

3) It is mobile friendly. Google Plus is already on Android, and will be available on iPhone, which will allow you to engage with your audience outside the desktop. Techcrunch provides a brief overview of Google Plus mobile presence, covering what works and what is yet to come.

4) It is integrated in web and search analytics tools. Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and some 3rd party search analytics tools (Link Research Tools) already show reports on 1+engagement metrics (search impact, activity or what pages invoked Google plus acts and audience (number of unique users doing those), so you are at a good start to measure your content attractiveness and user engagement.

5) It might provide opportunities in brand management. Though, company profiles are not favored yet, given its testing period, it is likely that company pages and profiles will be available. It could be fantastic for public announcements, virtual conferences, while connecting various audiences without needed IT setup.

6) It can be excellent for product management. Getting in touch with potential users of your new product or collecting feedback on the existing service using hangouts functionality makes it a good tool to collect insights directly from your audience on what works and what does not. It also allows you to capture body language and clues from the environment of your conversations to enrich your learnings about a topic at hand. Though, limited to 10 parties to participate, it can still foster a quality focus group session.

7) It can be benefit your people search. If you are new to some aspect of internet marketing and trying to get into the new area, finding and connecting to experts becomes somewhat personal and more engaging via Google Plus directory. You can find people who joined the network. It also allows you to find experts in various fields based on the provided statistics and much eye-eappealing UI than Twitter search. It might even become a people search filter on Google in the future. How exciting!

It is likely that more applications of Google Plus are to come within the next few months, and using them early in your marketing campaigns might very well provide some first entry advantages.

I am playing with it rather lightly as of today myself. Are you?

A Marketer Tribute to Online Videos

If you are constrained with time and resources, but need to create a compelling piece of marketing collateral that serves its purpose naturally, instantly and with ease of engagement, what would you choose – a one page guide, a white paper, a site or a video? My recent observations on the effectiveness of marketing content pushed out to the masses, (or seeded towards, be those targeted or not), compel me to pay a tribute, or to confess in love, as you will, to online videos that meet all our secret marketing needs!

Why videos? Well, let’s see.  If we start with 5 common sense reasons why online videos are effective in engaging your target viewer, we will find:

1) Ease of use – it is so easy to view a video versus to read an article – so much less effort and attention needed to decipher the message.

2) Entertaining factor – for long, we have been primed to be entertained by TV ads, movies, TV programs, etc. that it becomes a second nature to get into that state of expecting a show worth of our attention.  No wonder why all the mentioned media strive to entertain us first to utilize that captivated attention.  Hence, when it comes to video content, we are more likely to engage into viewership on the premise of the anticipated “show”.

3) Message interpretation accuracy – “even though visual communication is a less direct way of communicating, most people rely on this form of communication and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world! Visual communication adds another layer of information in our communication with each other, and perhaps that is why we cherish our vision so much.” Numerous studies, books, articles emphasize the importance of body language or visual memory in communications. The referenced article by Debbie Jensen explains why visual memory precedes all others – a simple reflex or function of our mind to organize information beyond one point – the law of continuation. So if we see the message, we are better off comprehending it.

4) Longer life in audience memory – people remember better in pictures than words. How many times you recalled something faster because it had an association with the name of your home town or some other event? How many times you were able to achieve something because you visualized it? You simply gave a command to execute the vision to your mind. Imagine what it can do for your call to action – it can be easily presented in action to your audience.  In other words, videos are visualized messages that you can more effectively plant into your customers’ memories!

5) Wide range of channels to place those wonderful “communication machines” for free – isn’t that something? Usually, you do not need to worry about media placement costs, run of time and on and on…the key “details” that rank up your marketing spend when it comes to TV ads, or product placements.  Plus, a myriad of “audience-heavy” user-generated sites from YouTube to MySpace provides you with various options on where to seed your videos.  So, go and use them…wisely!

On the other hand, if we browse the latest industry trends on online video usage, we will support the above 5 reasons with the following facts:

1) Overall, the average US online video viewer watched 327 minutes of video in March, nearly 5.5 hours - according to emarketer, online video ad spending in the US will pass the $1 billion mark in 2011. Go and capture your audience right there, right now, when it browses YouTube or its online newspaper sites.  A good video marketing strategy can produce stellar results for your brand!

2) In total, 138 million Americans – approximately three in four US Internet users – viewed online video – according to comScore. And that was measured in November 2007 – imagine what it is now (or conservatively stay within the same data point) and use it to support your marketing web strategy rationale to invest in video production.

3) Private studies show that awareness and purchase intent grow significantly as a result of online video views – according to AdAge author Kevin Nalty. Though, there is no reference to study results, the statement makes sense even from the personal shopping experience – yes, I will more than likely buy an item that I saw in action in a video.  Moreover, if that video was shared by my respected Facebook friend, I am to invest more thought into the buying process.

So, are you convinced to produce some “kick-ass” videos? Your marketing strategy might get a well-deserved lift!

Suggestions to Marketing Folks (Brand Managers) at T-Mobile Directly from My Customer Experience

Today I faced with a reality of being a tiny customer for a giant company that does not care enough to get the feedback on how they can improve their service and make their customers love them more. It happens very rare when I blog about a user experience from my personal experiences, but I had to devote a post for that as not only my customer dignity was lost, but my professional advice was disregarded.

I truly believe that T-mobile marketing folks would appreciate some feedback from the actual customers coming to them directly, perhaps even in a form of a packaged idea. Or maybe not! The worst has happened already – as a loyal customer, today I felt duped and almost helpless. I was trying hard to deliver my feedback through the customer service rep and she kept on repeating that no one is going to care about my suggestions. I guess in the worlds of giant corporations a tiny customer‘s voice is just a nuisance. I have to use my blog for that as there is no other channel that exists that can provide that kind of a feedback for them. The rep confirmed that my feedback is useless and no one is going to check and she has no way to pass my suggestions through. I just have to deal with it! On the other hand, it made me think a lot about how much does a brand value matter to the fellow marketers at T-mobile in relation to one but still an eye opening experience from an average customer? Thus, the purpose of this post is not to bash the brand, but to try to deliver my feedback to the folks that can make a difference in the customer experience. Or not, as they can always disregard it. And lose me and lose a few more of the customers like me one by one.

So, I went back to the corporate site and I had a hard time finding a mission statement with the values! I guess, the assumption that the customer is right and important was my imaginary assumption. The company never made a promise to serve me well. That does not help.

I always did not pay much attention to the ads that show how big telecommunication companies treat their customers as opposing to the emerging internet-based providers. Heck, as a customer I was quite irrational while making a choice who is going to be my cellular carrier. I just liked Katherine Zeta-Jones and the coverage seemed to be national, so I chose T-mobile. Very typical irrational, but short-cut based decision. Now, having experienced the reality, I think twice who I should have chosen. Going back to the commercials, I never related till today to the jokes that are played on major carriers with multiple rules. In fact, I was ok to comply to those rules as I always felt I will be heard – till today! As an example, Vonage has a great piece of an ad that makes fun of the giant communications providers. It is pretty new and only available on TV. Other examples include the following videos.

Now, I am thinking about switching to Alltel, who cares about $200 cancelation fee when they never notify me on the overage and I might as well save the trouble?

My complete T-mobile user experience story
To depict the situation better, here is my actual description of the experience as a T-mobile loyal customer. The customer that was not cared for…
Yesterday, I renewed my contract with T-mobile and felt pretty happy to get a new phone and play with it. As a user I had positive feelings about the brand. Today, I could not understand why my phone was so silent till I realized that my service was suspended due to overages of $150. Ok. Could T-mobile notify me with a text message prior to my overage or even prior to suspending my service when I lost an ability to connect to my clients and lost $$? How do I know about the overage? I never check my minutes as a user! Do you ever check you minutes on the cell phone? I never do. In fact I care less. I have yet to meet someone who checks their minutes all the time. Yet, the customer service rep told me that it is my responsibility and they care less about it. Ok, I might have talked too much on the phone this month and the past month and I am ok to pay the overage and I am ok to switch to the more minutes plan. But, there is no way that the T-mobile can devise a program, can create an automated text messaging system to people when they go over their minutes! There is no way it can happen and there is no way to suggest this idea to the customer service to pass along to marketers! I felt as if I was speaking gibberish and the customer rep could not understand my suggestion and passion behind passing the idea how they can still keep my loyalty as a customer if they make those changes – create either email or a text message system that notifies me about the minutes and overage before I have to pay $200. I can pay that, money is not a problem these days – but it appears that T-mobile would rather charge me overages all the time and let me know explicitly that I have to check my minutes! I do not want to check my minutes. I have no time in my life to do that. Why not you as a brand and as a service provider – make it easy for me to be loyal to you? Why not you prevent a trouble of overpaying for me for cell phone usage and notify me about the overages with a text message? How costly is that? Cheaper than a commercial! Or even a customer service call! And I will keep being your customer longer than a contract! Now, I am seriously thinking of switching. I feel cheated. I do not care. I am not loyal any more because you felt that it is ok to keep me in the dark and ignoring my suggestions! Pursuing the lock-ip strategy is not a long term strategy that insures success. At some point, your customers and your competition will figure out how to get away from this bad relationship. Do you care as a brand? Or you don’t?

My suggestions to T-mobile marketing folks:

1. Listen to your customers – create a channel where they can share their suggestions before you lost them!
2. Make it easy for them to be loyal to you! Create an automated communication program (text message or email that notifies your customers about overages beforehand)! Or keep collecting the short-term profit of an overage and lose a lifetime value of steady income.
3. Make sure your customer service rep communicates the customer voice to you directly.

What’s in the Name? Naming New Products and Re-branding

Coming up with a new product name, creating new packaging and staying loyal to the master brand could be quite a challenge, especially when multiple stakeholders are involved. So, what helps us go through this creative process? What can we already apply for our benefit that was tested and lived through? – Provided that we look at every product launch as a truly unique experience (which it is), here are some nuggets from my research to share on the subject:

I. The branding signals beyond the name
II. The necessity to change names and logos when strategies change
III. The beauty of the unique names

Firstly, Allen Adamson in his book “BrandSimple: How the Best Brands Keep it Simple and Succeed” points out the concept of bringing brand signals beyond the name. In other words, there should be some sort of a unique customer experience that reinforces your product name and transfers its meaning even further: instant perceptions of a product experience. This information can be of great value when you are to change the name of the service, product or even a corporate name. He calls these experiences – “power signals”. Examples of those signals could be:

1. People behind the brand – like FedEx employees delivering “reliability”. Before its expansion into the global markets, the brand had a name of “Federal Express”. It served well for a while till the company moved into a broader service scope both functionally and geographically. Federal Express became too limiting and not succinct in expressing the brand power and did not allow “capitalizing on what became a positive fact of life. “FedEx became a ubiquitous term everyone used for an overnight delivery. In 1996, FedEx was formally adopted as a brand name which followed the logo change as well. Moreover, FedEx is a fast, confident and super-efficient brand, so its employees! You have to deliver on the promise you have in your brand name –already!

2. Exclusive product placement –like Gatorade, can be another power signal. Its placement into the football game –“dunking of the winning coach” – almost became a very recognizable association. The trick though not just in the right placement at the right media and the right place – it truly evolves around the authenticity of the product benefit – it is created for the athletes and it does improve performance. So, it just makes sense to be endorsed in the football game placements.

3. The speed at which the brand is recognized – the power of the icon, can be very effective to communicate your meaning. KFC managed to get the attention of folks speeding at the interstate by using its recognizable icons. Originally, it used to be fully spelled out as Kentucky Fried Chicken with a pretty sizable image of Colonel Sanders. When the brand team had a re-design challenge, they first shortened the name to KFC AND increased the speed of service. Then, they reduced the size of the image to the postage stamp. What happened later is very interesting: customers perceived the change in the name (shortened version) as sensible, but interpreted the loss of sizable image as the indicator that the meal is no longer home-cooked quality. They wanted the image back. Colonel’s face was equal to Micky Mouse ears – highly recognizable.

4. The power of the first impression or a first mover – Genworth – (a spin off of the GE) – can be effective. The company utilized the parent cache of the GE brand and solved the challenge of getting to the market fast by differentiating itself through the parent company heritage (excellent management and credibility), leaving the GE in the name and by coming up with the “generation- worth-assets” meaning – Genworth.

5. Advertising – could rule? Couldn’t it? Yes, it could. The U.S. Department of Transportation had a success campaign “Friends Don’t Tell Friends Drive Drunk” utilizing the four fundamental principles of effective advertising: grab a viewer’s attention, communicate to the right audience, persuade and stimulate the action and be effective overtime to build the recognition. This was a vivid example of that.

6. WOM – Word of Mouth – was utilized by Blackberry to develop a community and a cult movement of Type A personalities: people who make things happen in the professional world. The functionality this communication tool provided directly appealed to the emotional need of those professionals to stay in touch –always! If your product integrates well into your customers’ lifestyle – you might use this power signal very effectively. Just launch a community campaign, make it interactive and integrative of the customer experience with the product.

7. PR – used by Dove – capitalizing on the simple benefit and an authentic statement (providing soap which consists of ¼ of a cleansing cream). Testimonials became the strongest part of the branding campaign: there was evidence to its claim to make women beautiful every day. However, the most effective research fact the company used is expanding the definition of beauty for its customers – that made more women feel beautiful! It showed variations of beauty in its ads further on, thus increasing the 2 % of confidence to potential 10%! Brilliant!

8. Experience, as was implied before in the previous items, can be quite differentiating: Ann Taylor maximized the retail space to provide a unique experience to the professional busy women: it always provided high quality, high coordination items – thus appealing to a broader demographic. It is like a friend who will always give you a sound advice on clothing! If you go there next time, pay attention to the fact how well the retail space is designed to make it a fast and efficient shopping experience when a busy woman can run there at lunch and have a perfect outfit in 15 mins due to its consistent layout.
Sephora did the same by redefining the experience of make up shopping by brining it to customers for play!

Secondly, Joan Schneider in her book “New Product Launch: 10 Proven Strategies” shares her extensive expertise and experience with the new product launch strategies. This is a great guide to the topic with solid cases. The ones, I particularly liked referred to Compaq and British Petroleum. The former used to be a 1000-dollar mini computer brand that expanded into other markets. It had a perfect name for its initial products, but failed to see the need for image change when it brought other products through acquisition. The old brand (name, logo, etc) did not coexist well with the new strategies, thus bringing confusion. Eventually, Compaq was bought by HP.

British Petroleum on the other hand, had a success story when the need for re-branding occurred. It already moved strategically into global markets and it did expand on the energy offerings beyond oil. Leveraging the brand cache of BP (initial letters) and integrating the “beyond petroleum” strategy, BP had an effective repositioning. Perhaps, it is a synergy between the senior management support and true marketers.

To the third point, Seth Godin proposes to use the strategy of making the names up as opposing to turn to the benefit-description techniques. He points out that the unique name not only moves you forward in the differentiation game, but also develop its secondary meaning in a short period of time –initially internally and later externally. “The entire point of “secondary meaning” is that the first meaning doesn’t matter at all (especially since you picked a name with no meaning to begin with). Over time, a surprisingly short time, your unique word, especially if it sounds right, will soon be the one and only word.”

And this is just a tiny glimpse into the magic of brand perceptions world! A combination of art, psychology and common business sense!

Summing it up:

1) It is imperative for you to understand that bold moves pay off if you set them right with solid strategic planning.

2) It is important to look at the entire initiative as a “gestalt” or a “whole” integrative movement (like in a chess game): where all your communication pieces are in play: logo, product name, brand cache, and power signals embedded in the product experience. This allows you to choose a wining strategy based on the wealth of available product launch and re-branding knowledge that is still highly focused on your unique brand case.

A Word on Trends in Brand Management

It is very exciting to see big brands engaging with the customers through social media to carry the brand message. South West Airlines had a recent contest on the best video ad for “Wanna get away” campaign, while Frito Lay gets free market testing/product testing info on a new chip flavor. Apple does not have to ask, its users engage themselves into creating ads and parodies for brand characters. I wish the same contest started for Geiko “Caveman” campaign (my favorite!).

Another cool application of interactive web or social media, whatever its best description, is when bloggers can test brand value on a high level like “If this product/company drops from the face of the Earth tomorrow, would we care?”.  Brand Autopsy blog recently posed that question for Wells Fargo in the “would you care series” and hopefully someone from Well Fargo managed to pick up the feedback. Even if they did, would they try to ignore it or deal with it?  Sears got the best remarks and one can see how much experience matters in brand perception.  You have pleasant experiences while consuming the product or being in the purchasing decision process, you flip those like a favorite photo album. You have a bad experience (customer service as in the Wells Fargo example), you care less and perhaps try avoid experiencing any transaction at this point with such a brand. Thus, emotion and ambiance are tied into the brand perception as well. The examples with South West Airlines and Frito Lay add a community aspect.

So what are the top 5-10 aspects/parameters of a solid brand? Any literature on brand management that is fresh and at the same time timeless?

The Power Of The Story

I had a chance to listen to the speech of Scott McCain, the author of the book “What Your Customers Really Want”.  Very engaging speaker. He expressed a great point that I wanted to share. We all hear about the elevator speech and short story that we need to tell our customers (I even blogged on it here). However, we sometimes forget about the “High Concept” of the story structure. If we think of our business story as a movie we are going to shoot, it makes it easier to construct a powerful piece. Just 3 simple things can help us communicate better with our audience and thus be more successful in our demand generation efforts:

Act One: Introduce the characters and the conflict.
Act Two: Tell about the various ways those characters try to solve the above-mentioned conflict.
Act Three: Provide the heroic resolution.

The three basic steps that can help us create a compelling story are good to keep in mind. Just imagine, you are shooting a new blockbuster movie about your product/service/program. What would you do, how the plot will unwide?

The more I learn, the more simplified versions of the same concepts I value!

RFID and Creative Marketing

Wow, now we are talking about great marketing.  Using RFID, Mini Couper marketers talk to Mini Couper drivers and deliver customized messages. See the whole article by NYT. Can you imagine the first reaction of a driver that has not read this article or somehow forgot to remember what he/she signed on for? Creepy feeling of talking objects! Actually, I see the privacy issue come up, but it is nice to get personalized service from your favorite brands, talking to you, checking in with you and reinforcing your loyalty. Interesting aspect of interactive brand “romancing”.

People’s profiles based on brands they consume

It is not a novelty, but still an interesting phenomenae how people can be segmented or profiled by the products they consume. Another reason why marketing is great. You can find out so much about a person based on the info where she/he shops, what he/she eats, where he/she vacations, what he/she reads and what recreation the both choose. Ask 10 questions about the person’s lifestyle, ask the brand names and you can craft a profile. Perceptions do matter. Brands become ways for us to signal about our wants and needs, existent or aspired and this is a valuable piece of data!

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