Monday, March 16

Measuring Communication, Equation Influencers Part 2

“Brand is the relationship between a product and its customer.” — Phil Dusenberry, former chairman of BBDO Worldwide

While more formal definitions might include "the assortment of qualities that differentiates the brand from other commodities, which translates into higher sales volume and higher profit margins against competing brands" or "marketing effects or outcomes that accrue to a product with its brand name compared with those that would accrue if the same product did not have the brand name," Dusenberry’s proposition defines brand equity succinctly.

Brand equity is derived from what people think and feel about a particular person, product, service, or company.

In recent years, an increasing number of people misdefine brand as an identity, image, mark, or logo (e.g., as in a cattle brand). However, it's none of those things. For the relationship between those things and their relationship to a brand, it might be worthwhile to refer to an older brand primer post, which includes a in depth comment from a trademark lawyer as well.

For the purposes of measurement, a better definition that reflects Dusenberry’s proposition is that a “brand” is better thought of as the net sum of all positive and negative impressions. For example, when people think of Apple, they have an immediate emotional reaction to what Apple represents as it relates to them. It may be positive or negative or neutral or degrees in between.

The impact of brand equity on the whole of communication can be extraordinary. Simply put, Apple has developed a brand that is powerful enough that anything it does is news. The same can be said about Apple CEO Steve Jobs. It's simply not so for the bulk of many of other companies.

Brands have a two-fold relationship to the overall communication strategy.

In the ROC equation, brand equity is demonstrated as a second influencer that impacts the whole effectiveness of communication. Specifically, Brand times Intent (message plus suitability times reach) divided by duration or B • I (m+s • r)/d. The more powerful the brand, the more people take notice.

However, planned communication can also negatively impact a brand. For example, Pepsico's Tropicana package redesign had a dramatically negative impact on the brand relationship between the product and the consumer. Interesting enough, the Arnell Group didn't change the brand as much as they changed the identity of the product, which came to symbolize the relationship that consumers felt toward the product.

What the Arnell Group never seemed to consider (or Pepsico, which seems to be redesigning its entire portfolio of products for the sake of change), was that its most loyal consumers identified the orange with the straw imagery much in the same way Coca-Cola has infused itself into the psyche of American culture and around the world. In sum, the package redesign diminished the brand equity.

Over-reaching creative, erred publicity stunts, and forced viral campaigns all have a tendency to diminish brand equity. Why? Such efforts tend to push for frequency and reach at the expense of the value proposition and message, which are critical components in establishing a brand promise.

An interesting side note about brands and their meaning to people.

We've had a laugh or two over the Microsoft Branding Parody that pays homage to Fred Manley's “Nine Ways To Improve An Ad.” However, there is something else to think about.

Over time, Microsoft's brand became so entrenched with a "generic" identity that it became difficult for the company break away from it, even with the help of Jerry Seinfeld. However, as Microsoft recently learned, even a generic brand might avoid lowering the bar too much as it did with Songsmith video.

The reason this is relevant is because of another theory we've had in the mix for some time. The Fragile Brand Theory suggests that it is less important to stick with your brand choice (innovative and elusive like Apple or a generic giant like Microsoft) than to switch and swap identities that confuse your publics. In general, people develop relationships with the sustainable familiar, regardless of the brand that people, products, and companies try to project.

If there is a distinct takeaway separate from the measurement abstract, it is that as much as brands influence the impact of communication, communication tends to influence brand over the long term. Dramatic juxtapositions of established brands, regardless of what they are, do not end well.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

Friday, March 13

Shaping Public Opinion: Copywrite, Ink. Presentation

Shaping Public Opinion was presented Feb. 6, 2009 at Regis University.
View more presentations from CopywriteInk.

Thursday, March 12

Treading On Headlines: Newspapers Sink

“In 2009 and 2010, all the two-newspaper markets will become one-newspaper markets, and you will start to see one-newspaper markets become no-newspaper markets,” said Mike Simonton, a senior director at Fitch Ratings, who analyzes the industry, to The New York Times.

He is not alone in his assessment. Time magazine recently listed what it believes are the 10 most endangered newspapers in America, including: The Philadelphia Daily News, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Miami Herald, The Detroit News, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Sun-Times, The New York Daily News, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and The Cleveland Plain Dealer. The article also suggests eight of the 50 largest papers could be gone in the next 18 months. (Hat tip: Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, who has been posting a series called "Information wants to be free, reporters want to be paid" for some time.)

There is a rub too. According to a Nielsen Online report for the Newspaper Association of America, average monthly unique audience figures for newspaper Web sites grew by nearly 7.3 million in 2008 to 67.3 million visitors, an increase of 12.1 percent over 2007. Monthly unique visitors during the fourth quarter of 2008 averaged 68.2 million, an 8.6 percent increase over the same period a year ago (62.8 million).

So the reality is that newspapers are more popular than ever, but the business model is broken. It doesn't have to be, but it is because daily publishers operated in denial for almost a decade. Most of them, including the Orlando Sentinel, noted steep circulation declines as early as 2003. From our data, virtually all newspaper circulation graphs look similar if not the same.

The Solution Is Symbiotic Content Over Duplication

There are many reasons newspapers are failing, but the one we'll touch on today is the most obvious. When publications migrated online, they duplicated the content in entirety and then added more features to the online asset than the print publication could ever hope to support.

While this might have proved to be a successful model, dailies made the mistake of considering the online asset an entirely new revenue stream (thereby denying print advertisers the benefit of the online circulation as well). Had the advertisers been allowed to migrate online for free, dailies might have survived with a single revenue stream.

But instead of having one product, dailies created two. And in doing so, they became their own competition, with the better product only fetching mere pennies on the dollar in terms of advertising revenue. Another solution might have been to follow other models proven successful on the Web.

Instead of duplicating content, newspapers could have considered creating a more symbiotic model, with the print and online versions of the publication carrying similar but modified content. For example, the printed daily could have included the in depth coverage (the kind that kept newspapers competitive with broadcast over the last few decades), while the online versions could have summarized, editorialized, or provided actual supporting documentation (such as letters, court filings, etc.) for the print version.

Doing so would have driven print subscribers online and some online readers to subscribe. While there are many different degrees of differentiation for such a model, the basics are the same. There are plenty of companies that have already proven premium content still pays the rent. Sometimes, it even pays more than an annual subscription to a daily newspaper.

Not All Dailies Will Die, But News May Never Be The Same

If there is a bright side to the blight facing newspapers, it might be that the long-term future seems more promising than short term. Eventually, one can hope that the public will grow weary of increasingly yellow journalism (biased opinion masquerading as objective fact) and return to objectivity as once envisioned by Walter Lippmann.

This doesn't mean that I believe people will pay for objective reporting as it exists today, but I do think objectivity will eventually recapture its audience, assuming tomorrow's dailies will resist the urge to tamper with the term as today's dailies have done. (Not everyone wants to have their opinions validated. Some people still value the truth.)

Of course, once these publications have an audience, advertisers will follow. In fact, they'll be even more likely to follow as soon as marketers finally learn that circulation isn't the best measure. It hasn't been for some time.

Wednesday, March 11

Revealing Weakness: Brian Solis On Authority

Brian Solis, principal of FutureWorks, writing for TechCrunch, asked yesterday if blogs were "losing their authority to the statusphere."

Specifically, he wondered about the relevance of the Technorati Authority Index, which used to be the leading measure for bloggers to benchmark their rank. The theory was that the more blogs that link to your blog, the more authority you had in a subject area to be considered an "expert." However, as Solis alludes to in his post, engagement no longer occurs blog-to-blog or on the Internet.

Conversations are fluid.

While Richard Jalichandra, CEO of Technorati, told Solis the team is actively entrenched in the creation of a modified platform that embraces widespread, distributed linkbacks to blog posts in order to factor them into the overall authority for affected blogs, everyone seems to miss the point. While linkbacks, comment counts, retweets, votes, and all that other stuff is useful, it will never provide an valid indication of influence, authority, or status.

Real measurement doesn't happen according to online measurements. It happens as a function of the customer or reader experience. It's no longer about social media. It's about tangible real life engagement.

Conversations move everywhere. Blog-to-blog, blog-to-social network, social network-to-blog, blog-to-phone, social network-to-presentation, blog-to-physical location or office or classroom, blog-to-text message, and text message-to-whatever. They do not end with the blog nor do they end with the Internet. They continue wherever people may care to take them.

The measurement of these conversations isn't so much about who is talking about something as much as it's about someone taking action like shaving their head or walking the streets of Edinburgh in a bra. Anything else is just an adoption of the erred thinking that led some public relations firms to count column inches as a measure of success. Real measurement doesn't end with the number of "media hits" or column inches, it begins with them.

Or, to put it another way, the measure isn't that the story ran, but rather what people do once the story runs. "Media hits" or column inches are only a function of reach. And while reach can be beneficial, the wrong message still falls on deaf ears, no matter how many ears happen to hear it.

Online measures are interesting, misleading too.

We've been researching this area in public relations for years, but recently saw the same thing after an interesting occurrence on Twitter, after two different people pointed to two different posts.

Based on various online measurement models, one Twitter participant (Tweeter A) — with approximately 14,000 followers, high level of engagement, and significant number of retweets (someone else repeating what they "tweet" with citation) — is generally thought to have more influence than one (Tweeter B) with 300 followers, a lower level of engagement, and fewer retweets. However, when they pointed to posts on this blog, the opposite was proven true.

Twitter A drove 24 people to a post. Twitter B drove 103 people to a post.

So who really has more influence? Twitter A only succeeded in influencing a fraction of 1 percent of their followers while Twitter B influenced a whopping 34 percent of their followers. Ah ha. See that? Perception doesn't always equal reality.

The same can be said about comment counts too. I'm fairly certain that veteran communication and marketing bloggers like Geoff Livingston, Valeria Maltoni, and Lewis Green all shake their heads when they publish an important post and nobody comments. (Meanwhile, other bloggers publish meaningless posts and net 40 or more.)

However, what online measurements may never capture is how those seemingly quiet posts move people to apply new strategies and tactics that they've never considered before. Or maybe the content was simply profound or precise enough that there wasn't anything more to say, and the communities they've nurtured tend to avoid gratuitous exchanges such as "your best post yet."

Ho hum. It just goes to show you that The Skipper might not have been as popular as Ginger Grant, but there was no mistaking his authority.

So if Technorati really wanted to create a measure that would make the service relevant again, they might consider that, despite the fact that I doubt anyone can create an algorithm capable of peering inside the human soul. And even if they could, I suspect we wouldn't want them to.

Tuesday, March 10

Understanding Adoption: The Case Against Telephones

"Mr. Watson -- come here -- I want to see you."

And so were the first words uttered by Alexander Graham Bell on March 10, 1876, on his first successful experiment with the telephone. While most people take the innovation for granted today, the initial adoption was relatively slow and plodding.

Why wouldn't it be? According to America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 by Claude S. Fischer, even the telephone companies didn't really understand how to sell the service, primarily because adoption meant so many different things to different people.

Some people wanted a telephone for job-related reasons. Some people wanted it for social reasons. And most people, simply wanted it for emergencies, even if that was rare. Of course, that assumes they even wanted it. Most people didn't.

In fact, even as late as 1926, The Knights of Columbus Adult Education Committee conducted a study to determine whether the telephone weakened character, made people lazy, broke up home life, and reduced visiting among friends. And, by the Great Depression, many people dropped the service all together, either for financial reasons or simply because they considered it a bad habit. Do you see any similarities?

"Mr. Watson -- whatever you do -- don't call back."

As hard as it might be to believe, the same case being made against online communication is the same case that was being made against telephones almost 100 years ago.

Granted, Mike Trap, who authored a post at Scalable Intimacy, was only conveying the argument against social marketing as he was told by others. He's right in that social media advocates might listen to the complaints, concerns, and cynicism. However, it still makes for an amusing assessment if we apply these arguments as they might have been applied in the 1920s.

1. Telephones don’t make sense for 'our' business.

If your business is intensely regulated, requires personal presence, or targets a defined niche, then telephones aren't really for you.

After all, a regulated company requires only a select few who actually speak for the company; a personal service provider like a tailor obviously cannot serve customers over a telephone; and a proximity-based businesses (those serving people within a five-mile radius), clearly do not need a telephone when customers merely have to walk a few blocks to have their questions answered.

Furthermore, telephones are especially ridiculous because it allows someone to call and learn more about a company whenever they want. It's a distraction at best.

2. Telephone calls are “hard to measure,” meaning there’s no proof it works.

A savvy detractor could quickly dismiss the notion of having telephones, citing that not every call results in a sale. Besides, if people buy a product in a store, what else is there to talk about after the sale? Or, even more perplexing, why call the manufacturer when they can ask questions in the store with the product right in front of them.

While they may be interesting, the telephone presents no compelling logic to alter the status quo. Oh sure, there are anecdotes, but they always revolve around those few companies that already have telephones. Baloney.

3. Telephones lack reach to move numbers we care about.

Telephones are generally one-to-one communication. So how many people would you have to call in order to convince them to run out to your store for a sales bump?

That's so not scalable and it's almost silly. Obviously, having a telephone is a nice-to-have, not a must-have.

4. It's labor intensive, and excess capacity is hard to come by these days.

Let's put this in perspective. To use a telephone, you have it physically installed, join a service, hang around for awhile, give people an idea of what they might have to say, ANSWER the darn thing when customers call, talk to them, answer their questions, etc. Add it up and you'll quickly see that nobody will get any work done doing all that.

Next thing you know, you might even have to hire a receptionist to answer the phone or outsource part of the service to someone else. What a joke.

5. Brand development requires consistency of voice, not cacophony of “participation.”

Imagine the disaster that could be the result allowing just anyone who isn't the brand manager to answer the phone? One rogue employee having a bad day could destroy an entire customer experience. Bam, they are gone, just like that.

Nope, it's much better to have select people visit customers in person. It's much more controlled to interrupt them with a sale item in hand then it is to let them learn about our company whenever they want.

"Mr. Watson -- stay there -- and I'll put up a post for you."

You know, I'm fairly certain that given the comparatively slow adoption rate, many companies resisted buying a telephone for all the same reasons that some companies refuse to adopt social media on any level today. So rather than ask what holds them back, it might be more worthwhile to ask them where all those companies without telephones are today?

Perhaps we can hazard a guess. Those companies might be in the same place that 10 percent of all companies went when they told their customers to either visit in person or send telegrams. They became part of history.

Monday, March 9

Measuring Communication, Equation Influencers Part 1

"Maybe it's the rising quality of its cars. Maybe it's the halo surrounding Ford for passing up federal funds being devoured by its Detroit rivals. Or it could simply be Ford's focus on building image in its marketing while others flog incentives. But for whatever reason, America seems to have decided that Ford is a better idea after all." — Jean Halliday, Advertising Age

Ford, which is experiencing a revival and continuing to distance itself from General Motors (GM) and Chrysler, experienced a 16 percent increase in the number of qualified buyers who plan to buy a Ford. Conversely, GM fell 12 percent and Chrysler fell 33 percent.

The reason, in part, is sustainability of message. Ford has shifted its marketing message to a focus on the future rather than the current economic crisis that prompted GM and Chrysler to accept government bailout money and infuse distress advertising into every campaign. Distress advertising, which relies heavily on incentives, discounts, and sales is not sustainable.

While the lesson was learned across several industries, we saw it first hand while opening a Volkswagen dealership. Despite opening in a market dominated by a single dealership for 20 years, we successfully captured top sales in the state (fourth in the region) in less than four months. The reason was simple.

The cute, quirky, and sustainable electronic and print campaign appealed to the qualified buyers over distress advertising, which only reinforced the competitor's weaknesses. Over time, the competitor also conditioned qualified buyers to wait for the sale. GM and Chrysler currently have that challenge.

Both companies are currently running elongated sales incentives. However, the campaigns may be backfiring because the longer the incentives run, the more likely Chrysler will run out of qualified buyers or car buyers might not consider the incentives enough of a deep discount. In addition, too many fire sales condition consumers to only buy when there is a sale.

Considering Sustainability Is Critical To Long Term Success

In developing the Return On Communication abstract, sustainability is factored in by recognizing all communication effectiveness diminishes over time. The question communicators — advertisers, marketers, and public relations practitioners — need to ask more often is how fast will the effectiveness diminish.

Distress advertising, gimmicks, and publicity stunts tend to create attention spikes that rapidly diminish over a few days or weeks. In some cases, they may even lead to brand erosion.

For example, Chrysler's mission statement is "to achieve consumer satisfaction. We do it through engineering excellence, innovative products, high quality and superior service." Yet, its new incentive, "employee pricing plus plus" says the opposite. It suggests that "since we cannot achieve customer satisfaction, we've slashed the prices to increase unit sales."

The question to ask is what happens after an increased incentive (supposedly below employee pricing) ends? Will it be followed by employee pricing plus plus plus? Maybe. We've seen casino marketers drive properties below profitability with ever-increasing free cash offers that start with $5 and quickly expand to $100 or more. It's not sustainable, especially if core elements such as customer service are sacrificed.

Contrary, Coca-Cola might not be as expensive as an automobile, but there is no denying that it is the real thing. They save aggressive experimentation for products that have little to lose, like Vault. Currently, Coca-Cola will give away a free sample of its Vault brand (4 percent share of the citrus segment) to anyone who buys PepsiCo's Mtn Dew (80 percent share of the citrus segment).

"Many companies have challenged Mtn Dew over time, whether it was Surge or Mello Yellow and now Vault," said Frank Cooper, Pepsi's VP-portfolio brands. "What we're seeing now is a last-ditch effort to propel Vault forward in the face of Mtn Dew growth. It's an interesting tactic, but I think that the Mtn Dew consumer understands that the Mtn Dew product experience is unique."

So will it work? While Coca-Cola is usually smart in its marketing, it's clearly not sustainable, which Frank Cooper seems to know. Much more risky is the potential for the Vault campaign to backfire because the demographic might not want more kick with their citrus soda. But as pointed out in Advertising Age, Mtn Dew recently underwent a facelift that is proving unpopular. Hmmm ... sound familiar?

How To Factor In Sustainability To The Equation

Sustainability (d) is best described as one of two influencers that impact the whole effectiveness of communication, Intent (message plus suitability times reach) divided by duration or I (m+s • r)/d.

The more a buzz reliant a product might be, the effectiveness of the buzz will diminish at faster pace. That is not to say a campaign cannot be creative. Absolut Vodka still succeeds with its long running visual campaign. After 22 years, more than 1,500 of the ads featured Absolut s distinctive bottle, with the stubby neck and see-through label.

A few weeks ago, Scott Monty, digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford Motor Company, touched on the idea with a quick Twitter comment. "Viral is a result, not a strategy," he said.

He's right. Campaigns can go viral but forced viral campaigns, such as those attempted by Burgr King or Skittles never last. In order to hold interest, the campaigns rely on ever increasing the bar until even the next level is too high to be believed.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, even the best campaigns need an infusion of creative from time to time. After all, effectiveness also becomes diminished by familiarity and familiarity eventually produces boredom (just at a much slower pace than all buzz but no substance). That doesn't mean an entire brand will need a facelift, but it does mean that the creative surrounding the brand might need to be refreshed from time to time.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

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