Friday, March 19

Shopping Psychology: How Consumers Connect To Brands

A new study of social media from Chadwick Martin Bailey reinforces what many people already think they know: 60 percent of Facebook fans and 79 percent of Twitter followers are "more likely" to recommend a brand after becoming a fan or follower. And 51 percent of Facebook fans and 67 percent of Twitter followers are "more likely" to buy from brands they connect with.

And yet another study recently conducted by, a consumer insight firm, revealed that consumers do not identify with brands. In fact, not a single consumer said they believed any brand cared about them, except as a source of profit. And many, according to the study, said they have no love for any brand and found loving a brand to be unnatural.

Can they both be right? How about wrong?

Marketing's Understanding Of The Brand Relationship Is Digressing.

I tend to advocate for the brand definition as proposed by Phil Dusenberry, former chairman and chief creative of BBDO Worldwide. Dusenberry, if you don't know, was responsible for campaigns such as "We bring good things to life," "It's everywhere you want to be," and "The choice of a new generation." Those campaigns belonged to GE, Visa, and Pepsi. He also helped elect Ronald Reagan and co-wrote "The Natural" with Robert Redford.

“Brand is the relationship between a product and its customer,” he said.

Dusenberry was right. (He was right about several things, which you can glean from one of his last interviews. But where we can deepen his thinking is understanding that brand relationships do not always occur because of a direct connection between a brand and a consumer. There are some degrees of separation between the consumer and the brand.

Consumer-to-brand. Some brands do have a direct relationship to the consumer. Most notably, Apple and Coca-Cola have some of the strongest direct relationships. We can see it in psychological studies and intense interest.

Consumer-to-experience, tied to brand. Some brands rely not on a brand relationship, but the consumer experience provided by the brand. Offline, the Four Seasons has mastered the experience. Online, Facebook delivers. On a smaller scale, horseback riding might be the experience people connect to, regardless of who delivers it.

Consumer-to-product/service, tied to brand. Some brands win because they deliver a specific product or service people expect. The concept has propelled McDonald's to the top of quick service restaurants. Amazon demonstrates it online. Or, a consumer might love their car, but not the manufacturer.

Consumer-to-idea, tied to brand. While he might not have framed it up this way, Dusenberry's initial success with the Pepsi Generation concept was directly tied to association of an idea to a brand. The idea of "change" propelled Barack Obama to his presidency (and has also contributed to declining poll numbers as the "idea" has not materialized).

Consumer-to-group identification, tied to brand. One of the most recent success brand stories is undoubtedly Zappos. And although Tony H. was wrong to think the Zappos branding strategy is unique, he created a culture people wanted to belong to. In the 1970s, so did Kiss.

Consumer-to-individual Identification, tied to brand. If you ever wondered why Chris Brogan or Seth Godin are popular, it is because people identify with them. Offline, it's any number of celebrity spokespeople and motivators like Anthony Robbins.

Consumer-to-friend(s), tied to brand. Most recently, Geoff Livingston demonstrated friends will support friends and personal connections, especially to do good, because it brings the degree of separation between the cause and the friend within two degrees. It motivates people to join fan pages on networks like Facebook, even if the friend or follower has no connection to the brand.

Keep in mind, that many brand relationships work across several of these connections. Many of those mentioned above do not rely on one connection exclusively. And, there are several other relationships not listed here.

However, it can also illustrate how some social media and marketing constructs weaken relationships between a brand and the consumer. Ergo, if the only reason a consumer buys a book is because they have a connection with Oprah, the connection to the author is three degrees removed (consumer-to-Oprah-to-book-to-author) and the publisher could be as many as seven degrees removed from the publisher. Or, in considering the primary difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the former has a direct connection and secondary connections whereas the latter has relied on secondary connections.

How does this help us decipher two studies? People do connect to brands, but they often do not connect to them in any way they can or want to articulate. Conversely, the majority of people who follow a brand on Facebook or Twitter are "more likely" to buy from those brands is virtually predetermined. Why else would they follow a brand? Well, we provided several possible reasons above, most of which people would not want to or cannot articulate.

So what is really going on? It seems evident that social media can help companies benefit from secondary connections — individual identification, friend identification, group, experience, idea, and so on — stuff that they never considered before. However, relying too much on social media can also cause interference between the consumer and the brand.

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Thursday, March 18

Choosing Truth: LifeLock, Inc. Settlement

Last week, we shared four different versions of the $11 million settlement LifeLock, Inc. agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission and $1 million to a group of 35 state attorneys general over deceptive advertising. We then asked readers to compare these truths, choosing the most likely truth.

There wasn't enough data to call this poll scientific, but there was enough to prove a point. When faced with four stories, the truth is often left behind and consumers are baffled.

LifeLock Poll Results

• 28.57 percent said they were most likely to believe the Federal Trade Commission.
• 28.57 percent were not inclined to believe any of the four stories released.
• 14.29 percent said they believed LifeLock worked with the FTC to set new standards.
• 14.29 percent were inclined to believe all of the stories, assuming each had some truth.
• 7.14 percent thought what CEO Todd Davis said in interviews was the most accurate.
• 7.14 percent believed investor David Cowen that the FTC was politically motivated.

Interestingly enough, poll participants do not match the greater online sentiment. Online coverage is overwhelmingly negative, with approximately 85 percent of the conversation centered on the FTC release, and only 15 percent accepting any version of the LifeLock story.

Sentiment is overwhelmingly influenced only by which release mainstream and new media decided to cover. However, based on cursory research, the FTC release, which dominated the conversation on March 7, seems like it will have a much shorter shelf life than LifeLock public relations efforts.

The Public Relations Lesson

With some certainty, LifeLock had an opportunity to move beyond the settlement and return to business as mostly usual, but the public relations message is largely inconsistent and overreaches, undermining its own attempt at damage control. In addition, Cowen would have better served the company if he had not offered his opinion. The best the company can hope for now is that the settlement issue will eventually fade into history.

It's very possible it will, given the company partners with the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association on training programs. And, despite Nevada being one of the settling attorneys general offices, it is also hosting a cooperative identity theft town hall meeting.

Still, LifeLock is probably fortunate so far that the FTC has not sought to penalize the company in its handling of communication regarding the settlement, given the FTC barred LifeLock from overstating protection against all types of identity theft and the risk of identity theft to consumers. After all, LifeLock's settlement release clearly overstates its role in the settlement, which is ironic given the settlement was all about reigning in overstatement.

The Truth Lesson

While truth is not relative, the facts chosen by all parties seem somewhat selective. But most people will only be exposed to one of the four messages, which will shape their opinions about the company. And yet, none of those stories provide a full accounting of the truth.

Chances are that the truth resides somewhere in between everyone telling the truth and nobody telling the truth, depending on how you want to look at it. All of the releases seem to contain some truth and some spin, which prompted some poll participants to conclude all of them were true while others, given that a partial truth is not the truth, all not true.

For instance, Cowens' post is true in that the FTC is under greater scrutiny from the current administration, which may prompt it to pursue some cases that do not warrant it. It is also likely true that LifeLock accepted the settlement even if it felt it could win the case in the court of law because settlements seem cheaper (not always). His opinion, though, overreaches on speculation of a very specific agenda. It seems unlikely the ties are that tight, specific, and planned.

Still, the FTC release is heavy-handed. Usually, settlements come with some sense of resolution between the two parties, but this release is clearly punitive and doesn't provide a timeframe of when the deceptive advertising supposedly occurred. The FTC clearly wanted the settlement to be seen as a win, even if its own disclaimer admits that the settlement is no indication that the defendant violated the law.

Given the heavy-handedness, it seems painfully clear that LifeLock and the FTC were not cuddling up together in order to set new industry standards as LifeLock alleged in its release. And, at least one of the commissioners was not even interested in accepting the settlement. LifeLock also overstates that everything is business as usual as there are tighter guidelines in how it communicates its advertising messages in the future.

The message is further complicated by conflicting interview messages. Those messages seem to be closer to the truth but still overreach in communicating that the settlement did not have an impact on the company. That statement alone contradicts its claim to have set a new industry standard.

Another lesson here is how "he said, she said" journalism does little to get at the truth. When time-strapped reporters increasingly rely on reporting statements as opposed to investigating facts, nobody is served. It's especially par for the course for more complex subjects where topics like health care and TARP money give consumers the choice of believing the person who says the sky is "green" or the one who says the sky is "purple" while leaving "blue" out of the options all together.

In Conclusion

The real trouble spot for the FTC in this story is that there seems to be some dissent over whether such a service is needed. Based on the varied releases from attorneys general offices, identify theft is a problem, nothing is foolproof protection against it, and consumers can take steps to increase protection without such services (and thus companies like LifeLock are not needed).

However, such logic could lead one to conclude all sorts of services are unneeded, including everything from house cleaners and accountants to restaurants and pet groomers. Of course consumers can take measures into their own hands. However, if they want the convenience or peace of mind of having someone do some of it for them, then they might consider a service.

That aside, the FTC was right in taking this case but overzealous about periphery topics on wins that amounts to less than a 10 percent refund per consumer. LifeLock seems to have misrepresented its service by its own admission but seems unlikely to stop spinning the truth. And the decision whether or not a consumer chooses an identity theft protection service or does something on their own (none of which is 100 percent) amounts to nothing more than asking whether they want to clean the house or have someone do it for them. Ergo, everyone tried to be honest, but nobody was truthful. Not really. Case closed.

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Wednesday, March 17

Understanding Bloggers: Why PR Doesn't Get Them

While working with a record label on the release of a movie soundtrack that included a new single from a popular actress/artist with a loyal fan base, it only made sense to reach out to the dozens and dozens of fans who had built blogs in her honor. It made sense, especially since fans saw the star differently than most in the mainstream.

The general thinking was, as fans, who had a loyal following of more fans, they would be receptive to a relationship one step removed. However, had I adopted a common public relations practice, the tactic would have been to collect a list and pitch them, perhaps laced with all those faux personal courtesies too.

Fortunately, I already knew something that most public relations practitioners do not. Pitches are not introductions. They are pitches. And bloggers, well, they are as different as passersby who use the New York City Transit, which serves as many as 1.6 billion riders every year, or perhaps the Tokyo Metro, which serves more than 3 billion. They are all different, and most of them do not see blogging like social media experts or public relations pros do. Their motivation or combination of motivations have little to do with the motivations of public relations practitioners.

Ten Motivations Of Modern Bloggers

Media-Centric. Whether they are journalists who happen to blog or bloggers who aspire to provide content like citizen journalists, these bloggers are the most likely to be interested in a pitch. They are the most likely to consider their audience, have an interest in insider news (even if it is spun up by public relations practitioners), and be most receptive to push content provided in a new release. However, they are also the most likely to make fun of blind pitches and point out erred efforts.

Profit-Centric. They blog purely for the purpose of monetization. They generally pick and choose their subjects based on a pay rates (e.g., pay-per-post, etc.) or, sometimes, are contracted to write stories at rates that range from $25 per post to $250 per hour, depending on the blogger. They are only interested in peddling public relations content for cash.

Popularity-Centric. They are the most likely to look for every traffic tip and tactic imaginable. They are most concerned with creating the illusion that they are popular based on various measures ranging from page rank to link love. They may be interested in public relations pushed ideas if they are reasonably exclusive and they think it will inflate their numbers.

Affiliate-Centric. Whether they are serving a company or are part of an affiliate program makes little difference. The primary purpose of the blog, even if it adds value and is well read, is to market a product, service, or company. It's that simple. They are rarely interested in content unless it directly connects to their business or affiliate program.

Incentive-Centric. They like freebies, coupons, discounts, contests, product samples, and write content around the various incentives offered up regularly by public relations professionals. It's not that different from profit-centric bloggers, except cash isn't king. Gifts, praise, and follow-ups filled with gratitude will win them over.

Education-Centric. It's surprisingly rare, but there are some bloggers whose primary purpose is to educate existing students and anyone who happens to drop by and visit from time to time. Popularity and profit are secondary to education because the motivation sometimes requires them to be unpopular. The only way to connect with them is to deliver something that they think would be useful for formal or informal students.

Cause-Centric. Some bloggers are cause-centric, which doesn't necessarily mean non-profit. While some are related to altruistic causes, others' causes range from political affiliation, fan clubs, television show cancellations, and other pursuits. In the six divisions of modern media, they are the most likely to have an agenda. If the pitch supports the agenda, they may be interested.

Interest-Centric. Special interest bloggers still dominate the greater space of social media. These bloggers are simple enough to understand. They have a hobby and want to share their passion for it. It might be any number of hobbies, ranging from poetry and photography to bead work and being a mom. There is 25-75 split in whether they are interested in a pitch.

Relationship-Centric. Some bloggers are interested in developing deeper relationships with like-minded people online. Generally, traffic is less important than the friendships. Sometimes they'll develop 20 or so friends online and off. If they happen to have any popularity spikes, it's generally by accident. They are usually not interested in pitches, preferring to focus on their own personal topics while making or retaining friends along the way. They don't care about your client.

Ego-Centric. Some bloggers like the sound of their own voices, and there is nothing wrong with that. Any other measure might make them feel validated that their ideas and opinions have merit, but it doesn't really matter. True ego-centric bloggers are just as happy being misunderstood or undiscovered as much as they appreciate the occasional praise. Engage them at your own risk.

If you or your public relations firm don't understand these sometimes subtle and often mashable motivations, you have no business attempting to pitch bloggers or developing a blogger outreach program. Besides, most bloggers do not consider a pitch as being the most acceptable introduction. It basically advertises your aim to use them right from the start. It's best to avoid the pitch, anyway.

When it came to introducing the movie and soundtrack, it was a simple enough. One of the biggest questions about the film was which working title these fans might expect. The introduction was simple enough. We publicly engaged them with the answer. And, once we publicly engaged them the first time, most sought connections with us based on their terms.

The only bloggers we didn't engage were profit-centric bloggers (beyond direct paid advertising). Even with disclosure, pay-for-post arrangements are risky propositions in terms of outreach, credibility, and occasionally ethics. Otherwise, we did not discriminate based on popularity, reach, influence, or any other measure — even when one blogger successfully circumvented our relationship to secure an exclusive clip with the record label (it was the first and last time the label made that mistake).

The results were proof positive. Among some 45 films the studio intended for DVD, the film we worked on moved from last place to first place in terms of receiving more distribution outlets. And, once released, it captured higher than expected sales rankings via online stores, almost all of it driven by social media over mainstream media.

In conclusion, the takeaway is simple enough. Engage bloggers publicly on their terms because most of them will never engage public relations on the terms that those pros are used to nor do they have any interest in learning about advertising or public relations. Think win-win or no deal, without judgment on the outcome because all bloggers are different.

(Hat tip: Jason Falls for the inspiration on this subject.)

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Tuesday, March 16

Helping Publishers: Audit Bureau of Circulations

With the Audit Bureau of Circulations finally modifying its definition of a digital magazine in the U.S. and Canada to accommodate electronic reading devices, print publications and dailies may finally see a footbridge to cross the chasm.

As long as the replica digital edition includes a print edition's full editorial content and advertising under the new rules, digital editions will continue to be included in a magazine's circulation guarantee. The change comes, in part, from the efforts of Wired magazine, which was the first publication to seek review of an Apple iPad version. GQ had also offered an ABC-approved replica app for the iPhone and iPod Touch (December 2009).

What Publishers Are Allowed To Report.

• E-reader distribution averages, such as iPad and Kindle.
• Mobile app purchases, such iPhone or self-produced apps.
• Total paid/verified circulation emanating from multiple newspaper products.
• Comprehensive frequency, delivery platforms, and distribution methods.
• Audience-FAX, which allows the counting of sources used by ABC Interactive.

These new reporting options will be available to U.S. newspapers beginning Oct. 1, 2010. They adopt one of the methods we've backed for several years, which was for publications to discontinue considering print and electronic formats as competing products and to move toward a universal single product publishing strategy that doesn't distinguish from print and electronic.

"A newspaper today is much more than a traditional print product," said Merle Davidson, director of media services at J.C. Penney Co. and chairman of the ABC board. "We now have a roadmap in place to present a myriad of existing and emerging channels to media buyers in a consistent fashion, following industry-established standards, with the full transparency and trust that comes with an ABC audit."

The rules, combined with a pending July decision to allow ABC membership to include publications without a 70 percent paid subscription rate to be included, could reverse the decline of circulation among publishers. This is a promising development.

Why The Ruling Is Promising For Publishers.

By counting print and electronic replicas as part of their total circulation, publishers will be better able to sell advertising at sustainable rates. As a result, while publishers will be participating in an increasingly competitive environment, they will be better equipped to present sustaining ad rates with selling themselves out.

If publishers can regain their financial footing, there will be a greater incentive to increase the accuracy of reporting and return to objective and accurate editorial standards. It could increase the value of some publications to consumers.

Why The Ruling Is Promising For Writers.

There has been increasing pressure on publishers to reduce pay rates and lay off staff. This has contributed to the increasingly fragmented distinction of professional writers, guest "marketing" writers, and amateur writers, resulting in content mills, non-paid content (for the promise of exposure), reduced pay rates (as low as 2 cents per word, if at all), inequity in the caliber of the publishing credits, etc.

If publishers can regain their financial footing, those who seek to exploit writers by asking them to "volunteer" content for the financial gain of the publisher, will begin to wane. It could increase the value of quality content.

Why The Ruling Is Promising For Advertisers.

Media buyers have been pressured to compare advertising rates across a variety of diverse platforms, using an increasingly diverse measure of accounting. The new ABC rules will better equip media buyers to justify mainstream buys, and include alternative buys as supplements (such as buying space on a blog) rather than forgo mainstream vehicles and buy broadly across the net.

If media buyers make better purchasing decisions, print ads and their electronic replica versions could reinvigorate advertising to go beyond interruptive banner ads. It could decrease the number of hack ads that litter the net.

Why The Ruling Is Promising For You And Me.

Not everything about the era of infinite choice has paid off. In a world of information managed by public relations alone, consumers are asked to pick from any number of possible truths.

If publishers can regain their footing, bloggers will be free to publish on their terms as opposed to having public relations professionals dream of the day that bloggers might conform to public relations rules. While the notion of bloggers conforming to public relations rules is popular among those rushing the net, it is also fraught with back door deals, entitlement attitudes, "influencer" perks, and masquerades.

In sum, the evolution of publishers could restore credibility to the content we read. And that would be good for everyone.

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Monday, March 15

Tracking Facebook: Popularity vs. Penetration

Ever wonder whether Facebook is the best choice for business in your market? Statistics from Candytech, a Czech-based developer that specializes in Facebook applications and marketing roll-out, owns a portal that can help provide an answer. (hat tip Dave Courvoisier.)

Its team, led by bakery manager Lukas Maixner and chief baker Martin Homolka, are responsible for collecting and publishing near-real time statistical information on Facebook. The data includes the popularity of applications, developers, pages, groups, participants by country (by state in the United States), and average CPC and CPM in each country.

Understanding The Data At A Glance

The statistical information can help marketers and businesses prioritize when and where Facebook fits into their online social media marketing mix. And, in addition to the total number of participants, Facebakers gives up a glimpse of stated gender and age-related data that might cause some marketers to rethink the message.

For example, a business in Nevada considering Facebook as part of its social media presence will find a relatively small pool of participants, ages 18-44, compared to the state's population. And, as a result, it might not make sense for a proximity-reliant company to invest in a Facebook presence unless California is part of the intended audience.

The same holds true across the country. While it's no surprise that California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois lead the nation in terms of participants, the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Colorado, Massachusetts, and North Dakota have higher market penetration, with as much as 40 percent of the population participating on Facebook.

In Europe, the story is much the same. The United Kingdom, Turkey, France, Italy, and Spain outpace many neighboring countries in terms of total adoption, but Iceland, Norway, and Denmark lead in penetration. In South America, Argentina and Columbia have more population, but Chile has the highest penetration. In Asia, Indonesia leads in population, but Singapore leads in penetration.

Understanding Usage At A Glance.

In addition to Facebook by the numbers, Facebakers reveals how Facebook is used. Among the top 15 most popular pages, only Facebook, Starbucks, Twilight, I "Heart" Sleep, and Coca-Cola break into the top 15 company pages online. The balance belongs to games, actors, musicians, other personalities. Likewise, games dominate the most utilized applications, with only two Facebook applications and one cause-related group breaking into the top 15.

Even the number of active users tells the story. While some companies clearly benefit from a Facebook presence, Facebook users are mostly interested in personal connections and playing games. And since leading games, such as FarmVille, require participants to stay online while they play, such games dramatically spike the total time that participants stay online.

This doesn't mean that Facebook isn't good for business. However, it might mean that Facebook needs to be prioritized beyond being the brightest and shiniest social network du jour. Sure, anyone can make the case that it is always good for business, that it can be used for crowdsourcing, and why it might one day replace blogs. But that doesn't mean any of it is true for your business.

It might be. And it might not be. Sure, having a Facebook presence can be beneficial. But it takes a better understanding of the population, demographics, psychographics, common sense, and (most importantly) your customers before placing it at the top of an online priority list because it's popular.

After all, even in states where Facebook is widely adopted, the network is still only reaching about 40 percent of a population in a specific geographic region. Consider what kind of crowdsourcing misdirection that could lead to. Or how giving up to 80 percent of your proximity-based customers for lack of a blog might impact growth. Or how focusing too much on one or two specific networks might cause you to miss other online sites where your customers interact on a daily basis.

All this comes back to one simple truth about online marketing. It can work, provided it is part of a more comprehensive communication program. And, with an increasing number of sites like, more companies will begin to appreciate it.

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Sunday, March 14

Telling Truths: Fresh Content

Sometimes finding the truth is uncomfortable, but that doesn't make it any less important. While it often gets passed over for more popular discussions offered up by communicators sharing their thoughts through social media, the truth tends to have a longer shelf life.

Opening March, we found contrarians, consideration, conversation, consultation, and a case study to start the month. And if these past fresh content picks have anything in common (besides the trivial occurrence of the letter "c"), we might put the truth at the top of the list.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of March 1

Panels: Where’s The Contrarian? You’re Boring The Audience.
When it comes to communication professionals, there has always been some pressure for everyone to play nice, nice. There is nothing wrong with that, unless you consider that not every idea, thought, or general concept is right. It also makes for some boring panels at conferences, which is why it was refreshing for Lauren Fernandez to point out the obvious.

Content Strategy: Secret To Writing For Buyers Consideration Phase.
Few people work as hard as Valeria Maltoni to bring more insight into the bridge between social media and strategic communication. In this post, she breaks down three important components to developing a viable online presence: editorial impact, community building, and calls to action.

Understanding Conversion In Online Marketing.
Maria Reyes-McDavis presents her IMPACT Marketing Formula designed to help marketers consider every step in the online sales funnel: target, engage, impact, convert, and then monitor and adjust for feedback. While the process comes from traditional marketing, the emphasis on conversation (which is sometimes missing online) makes the post more than worthwhile.

• The Most Expensive Question.
Few people want to write about it because it's so very easy for some clients to take it the wrong way. Tapping agencies for recommendations tends to be an expensive proposition, unless there is a commitment for the client to proceed. Aaron Brazell keeps it light, recognizes it's part of business, but also helps warn off companies from accepting too much quick, dirty, and "free intelligence."

• Putting People Before Profits: Classic PR Case Study, But Without The Fairytale Ending.
Bill Sledzik's post, which covers the case study of Malden Mills, was strong enough that I used the case study in class to demonstrate why business owners have to find the balance between people and profits given that the two terms are often interlinked. You cannot have one without the other. And even those with big hearts and the best intention over the short term sometimes find that they have undermined their own ability to keep either over the long term.

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