The internet, and the explosion of social media networks, mean today’s consumers are always switched on. They are now using their own personal technology to become active advocates – or opponents – of multinational brands.
That means the brands around them have to remain switched on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, come rain, shine or even (as Eurostar will attest) snow.
Some brands are fearful of this change while others are embracing it. Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at FMCG giant Unilever, has said that given the intense competition between brand owners to connect with customers via digital channels, it will be the innovators that benefit.
The digital edge will be in all areas of digital marketing, social, gaming, search and mobile. And, in fast-growing markets like India and China, mobile penetration will “transform the way companies engage with consumers”, says Weed, with the next 1 billion online users set to come from the mobile market.
Mobile has, without doubt, added fuel to the social media fire. In just three years, the development phase for a new handset has shrunk from 24 months to three. And it will get quicker, says RAPP chief creative officer Rik Haslam.
He also predicts the reach of mobile will extend. The penetration of smartphones in some European countries is already well beyond the 20% tipping point where products and services are deemed mainstream. In Spain, 37% of mobile subscribers now own a smartphone, and in Italy the figure is 33%. The UK’s penetration is 28%, on a par with the rapidly growing US market, according to Nielsen’s Mobile Snapshot report.
As Haslam explains: “The landscape has changed. We are living in a turbulent world. There is turbulence in terms of health, religion, environment, economics and population. But there is also technology turbulence. Never before has technology moved so fast.”
While some brands are embracing the “always on” consumer, many more are stuck at a crossroads. Many have dabbled with digital, but with consumers increasingly connected, are businesses really ready for them? Marketing Week, in association with RAPP, hosted a seminar in London to discuss how brands can embrace the “always on” consumer. Brands Eurostar and Philips joined the panel debate.
Marketing Week (MW): The UK already has more mobiles than people. Just how quickly is the world moving on in terms of technology innovation and social media?
Rik Haslam (RH): In 18 months’ time there will be more smartphones than PCs on the planet. Twenty per cent seems to be the tipping point over which a product or service becomes mainstream and 3G hit that this year. Connectivity, mobility, the war for attention and the boom in social media have brought us to a watershed.
Jon Lee (JL): Consumers have really found their voice through social media. For brands it’s a case of learning how the connected consumer can really help you. However, this new technology is simply facilitating traditional human behaviour on a scale that was previously unimaginable. Connected consumers are a force for good. The challenge is to be creative to help them engage, and then back that up with your messaging.
Gary Raucher (GR): In the past, you could “force” people to watch your ads if you had enough money, but that isn’t true any more. You now need to engage more with the consumer. And that engagement means explaining what’s in it for the consumer. It’s about quality, not quantity.
Emma Harris (EH): I agree, our “exploring is beautiful” campaign this summer saw us launch a social media platform including a competition to join a special “explorer train” for a two-day discovery tour to cities like Lyon and Cologne. To enter, people had to provide a picture of their own exploration trips and the best entries got two seats on the train. The 300 people that we sent on the trip were then asked to blog about it – and they were obsessed with getting the best possible content to give them a chance of winning. The estimated quarterly reach from that 300 people was 250,000. JL: I think brands need to remain focused on the idea of communicating with people directly. We need to enhance their lifestyle in some way, so it’s not about “doing and saying to [the consumer]” but “doing with and for [the consumer]”. Many brands are realising the value of taking the trusted stranger to the heart of their brand, and then from trusted stranger to networked leader.
GR: We wanted people to experience our great technology, rather than just telling them about it – as we had done in the past with our marketing. We’d identified the cinema space as where we would fit, and wanted to be. It’s one of the most important decisions – defining an engagement platform. You need to find something people will be passionate about.
Our Carousel campaign really put us back on the map and in the cinema space [the ad, which depicted a continuous tracking shot of a frozen moment after an armoured van heist had gone wrong, won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions 2009]. But while we had 2.5 million views of the film, we had no way of engaging further. If you like, we’d been on lots of first dates but we were a long way off starting a relationship, and even further from a marriage (see Philips box, page 32).
RH: There’s a new kind of balance to all this. Now that everyone has access to media, things are a little more even – which takes us back to the point that brands need to develop real, long-lasting relationships with customers.
GR: Yes, you’re only as good as your last experience, so you need to take a holistic view. The customer won’t ever feel passionate about your brand if you fail to deliver a consistent experience across all touchpoints. Internally you need to be set up to deliver that. EH: I get asked a lot about social media experience, but perhaps as the person who did it “really badly”. The snow in December last year really caught us short [when our trains lost power in the Channel Tunnel]. We weren’t prepared. But what really caught us by surprise was the fact that passengers used sites like Twitter to tell us what was going on before we knew. In effect, they had turned the communication channel on its head. We no longer had control over the communication lines. I also realised that some people make it their life to attack brands (see Eurostar box below right).
JL: It’s really giving people the chance to reinvent traditional behaviour. About 30% of people will write a review. What’s interesting is that consumers are very philanthropic in their views – they want to help not harm your brand. In fact, only 13% will post bad reviews to take revenge. However, critical reviews can actually add credibility to the [more positive] reviews around them.
EH: They are equally important. In an ideal world, your customers and fans would do your marketing for you, but brands are arrogant if they feel they’re at the centre of people’s thinking that often. Advocacy is, of course, a huge driver of consideration, particularly for brands in the service sector like us where travel is often a discretionary spend. However, to drive major changes in perception or awareness, traditional and wider digital marketing still have a key role.
JL: The average person talks about 70-odd brands a week, and the majority of those communications are positive. But companies are really worried about the minority that are negative – and the ones that appear online. Again, it brings us back to the idea of social media and technology allowing consumers to reinvent traditional behaviour. Many years ago the snake oil salesmen were chased out of town. [People felt] the Gap logo had something of the snake oil about so they ran it out of town.
“The world is a transparent place. You need to find the value and express it in the most authentic way you can”
Rik Haslam, RAPP
GR: The role of the brand manager in defining their brand remains – they are the ones that can identify the space they’d like the brand to occupy. What has happened, however, is a seismic shift towards consumers having their own, active voice. That means brands have to be more transparent.
RH: It’s about honesty and value. Those that don’t have those qualities will struggle because for all the doubling of budgets it won’t seem authentic. The world is a transparent place. You need to find the value and express it in the most authentic way you can.
EH: In the aftermath of our snow experience, we had a lot of very angry, very vocal bloggers – where previously people’s experience and trust in us was very high, so it was a long way to fall. US airline Jet Blue had a similar situation with a plane stuck on a frozen runway, and they advised us to take the conversation with the bloggers offline. So we did. But we went further and invited them in to meet the chief executive, among others. That made them feel like they weren’t just commenting into the ether [the likes of “theeurostarfails” blog was removed and now the blogger writes positively about Eurostar].
The role of brand managers is to get close to or ideally ahead of any trends around their audiences, products and markets and to provide solutions and inspiration for their lives.
MW: Given the importance placed on advocacy and what people are saying about your brands, how do you go about tracking opinion?
EH: We track through a number of measures, from traditional satisfaction surveys and brand tracking, to regular social media conversation reports. This provides a broad idea of how your brand is perceived and, most importantly with the large-scale studies, means that the conclusions are statistically relevant.
We also speak directly to customers at all points of the journey because it provides valuable feedback. We’ve just introduced a real-time feedback service that allows our customers to text or call us during their experience with us, and get an immediate response.
GR: There are all sorts of studies out there showing how your net promoter score [a management tool used to gauge the loyalty of a brand’s customer relationships] relates to your growth potential. So we’re looking at strategies to drive our score, and one way to do that is to extend the relationship with your customers – in other words to go beyond that first date I was talking about earlier. As the passion and interaction builds between you and the community, you get to go on more dates. Of course, the challenge is to ensure that every interaction is a positive one. The fact the consumer is always on means they can communicate any experience – but the longer the relationships you have, the more chance they will be tolerant of a missed step.
EH: Everything is more immediate and personal now. Sometimes brands need to take a step back to consider the scale of any commentary online and look to other sources of information to see if this is borne out. That said, commentary on social media channels is visible and personal, so it’s essential to listen to those who have taken time to comment online and engage with them. It is a really useful way of getting to know your customer base or potential customers [and also detractors] as people, rather than them existing as anonymous numbers in a survey.
RH: I think the key is always to deliver value back to the customer. People are more willing to give up their data for that [value]. Brands also benefit from making it explicit how they intend to use that data. Of course, you need to remember that [what you do in terms of data gathering] will be a strategic judgement call and differ from territory to territory.
GR: We’ve adopted the controls of the strictest countries across our global network. People will now have to always opt in to receive further contact from us. It’s much better to have fewer, high quality conversations than to message the masses with irrelevant information (see Philips box, far left). No brand wants to be seen as one that spams. The customer’s privacy is paramount and we would never want to cross that line.
philips – carousel and parallel lines campaigns
Gary Raucher Vice-president and head of integrated marketing communications, Philips
Campaign learnings: The Carousel online campaign [which promoted Philips Cinema 21:9 LCD televisions] really put us back on the map, but it taught us a number of lessons. First of all, we were trying to get everyone we’d targeted [with the ad] to come to our website, rather than going to the community sites they were already members of.
We also realised that to be accepted by the community we couldn’t just talk about our product, we needed to talk about cinema. And we needed to keep talking about it because you need to be able to remain in touch with the community [you are targeting] once the campaign is over.
We were popular for a short time with the Carousel campaign but people quickly moved on to the next hot thing.
The Parallel Lines campaign: We started by creating a buzz by asking film director Jake Scott to blog about his part in a new campaign for Philips. We then confirmed we were working on a follow-up to Carousel, but only later announced there would be five films, still not revealing they would be linked with a single dialogue. Two months before our films launched, we released a trailer and our Facebook fans jumped.
More connection: We couldn’t just “hang up” on the community, so we immersed ourselves in the world of cinema and used Twitter to talk about issues the community was interested in. If we’d started talking about our products too soon we’d have just put people off. Then we engaged directly with the key film bloggers, placing clues that revealed the single dialogue. We also rewarded our Facebook fans with a premiere of one of the movies. We wanted to give them something in return. The dilemma: The wider release of the five films, directed by five different directors but using the same dialogue, followed. Had we not put the films inside a Philips TV, we may well have had even more positive comments, but that is the dilemma you face. Our campaign didn’t look like a commercial, but it still had to get across a brand message.
Past the first date: With Carousel we hadn’t thought of that long-term relationship, but with Parallel Lines we were ready for where to go next. We invited people to participate and create their own films with the set dialogue. The competition winner would get an internship at a Ridley Scott office.
The breakthrough: We had over 300 films that met our requirements and the standard was higher than we could ever have expected. It showed us that we had managed to break through the clutter, get our message across and really engage with cinema community.
eurostar – little break, big difference campaign
Emma HarrisHead or marketing and sales Eurostar
The campaign: We’d been doing quite a bit of research into how the recession was affecting holidays and had found that people were working harder and operating under pressure, so they wanted holidays to be a chance to recharge their batteries or visit loved ones. And so our Little Break, Big Difference campaign was born.
The engagement: The idea was to have a social media site where people can search for holiday tips for our destinations. We worked with travel filmmakers and took key bloggers away to create content.
Crisis management: The call came [when snow had caused trains to lose power in the Channel Tunnel]. The tweets were out of control, and we weren’t responding. The customer was actually feeding us information, and it didn’t help that we were responding through our Little Break, Big Difference channels. That was inappropriate as the passengers were on their way to meet loved ones.
The fallout: It involved a lot of very angry, very vocal bloggers including ones like “theeurostarfails”.
The reaction: We got advice from Jet Blue, which had experienced a similar situation when one of their planes got stuck on a runway. They advised taking the communication with the bloggers offline, but we went further and brought them in. They met with, among others, the chief executive and we listened. It helps if people feel they are being listened to – theeurostarfails blog was actually taken down and they now write about how fabulous we are. It helps us too – we’ve changed our communications process because we’ve listened.