sabato 2 maggio 2015

Brand Ambassadors, Brand Advocates or Brand Influencers? 10 key differences

A recurring discussion in marketing departments is how to identify, engage and collaborate with strategic individuals given the numerous possibilities offered by digital technology. Although the involvement of influential people has become a common practice in several industries, their role and contribution are often misinterpreted by managers, creating a sense of general confusion in the field. Recent technological and sociological changes heavily contributed to the rise ofempowered consumers that communicate on behalf of brands, also enlarging the meaning of the term ‘influencer’. A regular consumer can today evolve into recognized brand influencer, advocate or ambassador, without necessarily being a celebrity or professional endorser with millions of fans. Although, I have noticed a convergence of these three strategic profiles, I believe there are still significant peculiarities among them.
Brand Influencer: is usually a celebrity, blogger, expert that, having a large number of followers, is contracted by a brand to represent its image in order to increase the overall company credibility, thus, sales. Influencers are not required to have deep product knowledge or to show their genuine passion about the brand. The motivation to support a brand is for them purely economical and driven by their need to grow personal reputation and reach.
Brand Advocate: is often a very satisfied customer that spreads brand messages, naturally or incentivized by a company, to provide its social network with information he/she finds valuable. Advocates have good knowledge of the recommended product as they have satisfactory used it in the past. Their primary motivation is the perceived sense of recognition coming from friends, family members and peers, combined with other economic benefits such as discounts or giveaways.
Brand Ambassador: is defined as ‘extreme brand lover’ that is actively engaged in the co-creation of value with a company, having the ability to generate insights that produce value for the entire brand community. Ambassadors are irrational lovers that build long-lasting relationships with brands and other community members thanks to a sophisticated knowledge of the product. They are driven by the desire to become key community members and seek to receive preferential treatment (e.g. exclusive gadgets, access to company events, etc.) and social recognition.

These are the key differences among brand influencers, advocates, and ambassadors:
Role & Impact: while brand influencers have the scope to represent the product,advocates are mainly involved by companies to distribute content and ambassadorsgenerate insights and engagement for other community members through stories. If the company collaboration with empowered individuals has the business objective to increase sales, influencers might be chosen over others for their ability to reach a broad audience. Although this network is often made by weak ties, they benefit from a great sector-specific credibility. An advocate usually responds to the communication objective of creating awareness, serving the purpose of generating a high level of WOM. They function as opinion leaders inside their social network, despite they can directly reach a quite limited number of close connections.Ambassadors are, instead, handled when the relational objective of building strong communities, through both participation and advocacy, are in place. These brand lovers, not necessarily customers, can influence a rather narrow group of individuals with whom they have intimate relationships. Both influencers and advocates direct their efforts towards their connections outside the company, while ambassadors are also involved into some internal operations for their ability to co-create value with the brand.
Involvement & Commitment: while brand influencers do not need to be loyal consumers of a product in order to publicly endorse it, brand advocates must be trialist or loyalist with a good knowledge of it in order to generate effective WOM. Differently, brand ambassadors are often in the very final communication funnel stage ‘love beyond reason’ as they are enthusiast consumers completely immersed into the brand and community life. Personal knowledge of a product dictates the kind of tasks these three groups can undertake for a brand. Influencers are asked to promote products, for example, creating a new blog article to introduce the new Nike Air Rift. Also advocates support promotional activities when, for instance, they invite friends to join and get a discount on the next trip if they register.Ambassadors are usually engaged into consumer collaboration activities such as ‘tell us the story behind your coffee break and work with Illy Coffee managers to create the new advertising campaign’. Another differentiating factor among these profiles is the length of their involvement with the brand. Commitment varies depending on the tasks and their level of passion for the brand. Brand influencersoften collaborate for a short period, or even for a single activity, following the contract conditions under which the partnership originates. Advocates are involved as long as there is interest in the brand, or the company incentive justifies their effort. Differently, ambassadors are ideally involved for longer periods being their collaboration based on a high quality relationship made of mutual trust, reciprocal commitment and respect.
Motivation & Engagement: also personal motivation significantly varies among the three strategic individuals. In principle, brand influencers are driven by the need to grow their own fan/follower base and will privilege collaboration with brands that, besides offering good remuneration, also increase their overall image. A company that wants to engage with influencers needs to identify and ‘force’ them to represent the brand, as they would not naturally do so. Advocates decide to take an action having a social goal in mind. They want to help others and benefit from a sense of recognition besides some tangible reward such as samples, prizes, and discounts.Advocates do not always recommend a product naturally; sometimes they need to be induced through some incentive. Brands usually engage with them using a mix of push and pull strategies depending on the strategic importance of that particular consumer. Differently, ambassadors desire to become key brand community members, to receive preferential treatment and enlarge social relationships because of their expertise, creative touch and passion. Thanks of their genuine interest in the brand they don’t need economic incentives but rather exclusive experiences and rewards from brands. As these individuals naturally seek to connect with the beloved brands, a company can identify them through pull activities such as continuous listening and monitoring.
As you have seen above, there are at least ten elements to evaluate before choosing among brand influencers, advocates and ambassadors. In my view,knowledge and love for a brand are essential factors to consider before involving someone into your marketing and communication activities. For example, I believe you should sign endorsement agreement with only with influencers that genuinely love your brand. In addition, I believe that strategic individuals should always be rewarded by the brand for the their efforts. The company should clearly understand motivation and needed incentives (both economic and non-) ahead of a campaign launch.
Sometimes a ‘thank you’ message is enough to make someone feel special. Don’t miss the chance to thank the most important people for your business.
Alex Mari - Founder & Creative Director of BrandMate -

sabato 25 aprile 2015

The Social Media Plan [Framework]

As a Social Media Manager, you are responsible to ideate and implement a social media plan. Similarly to any other plan, this should be composed by three main parts: analytic (WHO)strategic (WHAT), and executive (HOW).
The definition of your social media strategy starts with the understanding of your brand and the communities you wants to reach. The WHO phase tries to capture all the information related to heritage of your brand, its equity, shared values, beliefs and most importantly of the brand ideals on which your content strategy will be centered (see my previous article ‘Brand Ideals definition’).

A sophisticated understanding of your brand naturally leads you to the analysis of your communities. Previously generated marketing documents that aim at facilitating managers’ understanding of your stakeholders and brand positioning should be properly reviewed ahead of any strategic effort.
Second step of the plan (WHAT), captures all the strategic decisions related to the creation of a Digital Plan. In particular, you must identify, for every single channel, a specific set of relational objectives, stakeholders, strategies and initiatives, metrics, resources and budget.
To make a clear separation between business objectives, communication objectives, and relational objective is rather fundamental at this moment. Despite all three types of objectives must be consistent across the entire brand strategy, a social media manager should be in charge of relational-based objectives specific for social platforms. These are: fostering dialog, promoting advocacy, facilitating support (i.e. customer care), spurring innovation, building conversational leadership, or creating linking value (i.e. supporting many-to-many relationships).
It is never recommended to set all relational objectives together. The main risk is to be on Facebook (or any other social media channel) to do a bit of innovation, customer care, advocacy promotion, dialog creation and community building for all the stakeholders of your company. Instead, the idea is to use a channel with a specific purpose and for a well-defined group of stakeholders, if you want to provide truly valuable content (see @JetBlue customer care for consumerson Twitter).
In the common case that your top management believes that the primary scope of your ‘social’ media plan is to increase sales by 3% or brand recall by 2%, I strongly recommend to quite your company. If fact, the overall objective of social media marketing is to establish and maintain relationships with strategic audiences, and not to sell more (esp. in the short-term).
Now that all elements of your digital plan have been defined, it urges to consolidate your Integrated Marketing Communication plan (IMC) including the whole online / offline initiatives your brand will be undertaking. This is needed to create synergies and to make sure the communication efforts of your company are properly orchestrated.
Last step of the document defines HOW the plan will be implemented to reach the defined relational objectives. This is the executional stage that begins with the understanding (or creation) of:
  • Social Media Guidelines & Policy
  • Roles & Responsibilities Map
  • Branding Guidelines (Personality & Tone of Voice)
  • Community Management Guidelines 
A Social Media Manager should actively participate to the creation of the above documents or at least have clear visibility on the strategic guidance provided by senior marketing and corporate communication managers.
You will be able to create and promote engaging content for your brand, ideally with the help of a community manager, only after the described steps are concluded. The most critical stage of the HOW section is the creation of content using aconversational/editorial calendar that genuinely delivers value to the defined audience. The very last step (and not the first as several managers wrongly believe)is the paid support (online advertising) aimed at amplifying your brand message.
When the implementation of the plan has begun, it is strategically important to work on the ‘Always On’ tasks: listening (analytics and monitoring), refining (relationship design optimization) and evaluating (metrics) that will structurally improve the overall social media strategy.
Thanks for reading!
Alex Mari - Founder & Creative Director of BrandMate -

venerdì 20 febbraio 2015

Mobile Apps Categories

Assessing the different typologies of mobile apps made available to users, it is rather intuitive to notice 4 main categories of software applications. If we go beyond the single features contained inside an app, we can observe that almost the totality of mobile applications can be conceptually included in the following categories: education, information, entertainment, and utility.
There are applications purely ‘EDUCATIONAL’ serving the purpose of educating people on a large variety of topics. Successful examples of educational apps areUdemy, an online learning platform that allows instructors to host courses, andTED, a global set of conferences held under the slogan ‘ideas worth spreading’. Also popular e-learning platforms for kids, such as Dragonbox Algebra, use interactive teaching methods for educational purposes.
Opposite to the educational apps, we find in the figure those focusing on ‘INFORMATIONAL’ content. Popular information-based apps are Wikipedia, the collaboratively edited free encyclopedia, and Reuters, the news agency.

Apps that provide ‘ENTERTAINMENT' are usually related to music (e.g.Spotify), video (e.g. Hulu) or games (e.g. Angry Birds).
On the opposite side of the figure, we have identified the so-called ‘UTILITY’ apps. In general, an application is defined under the label ‘utility’ when it provides a specific service with the lowest possible effort, thus, it is convenient. Popular utility apps are Google MapsSquare, and QR Code Scanner.
In general, an app is categorized based on the specific usage a user does of it rather than on its main business purpose. Therefore, an app like Facebook can be considered informative by a user if his primary scope is to receive selected info on the news feed page, while, it can be conceived as utility if only used for instant messages activities, etc.
Most of the apps currently available in the marketplace, however, are not solely educational nor informational and they are not solely made for entertainment or convenience. Very often, we observe a convergence of the described 4 categories.
1. EDUTAINMENT (Educational + Entertainment) is the quadrant where apps likeNike+ RunningGizmondoEverest can be placed. These apps serve the purpose to educate while entertaining the user, for example, sport apps allows you to gain points based on your performance while you review your workouts. The scope of the app is not solely to push you towards a healthier lifestyle (education) but also to provide entertainment (gamification) while doing so.
2. INFOTAINMENT (Informational + Entertainment) is the quadrant where information-based apps also entertain the user because of their service peculiarity (for example, apps having social features). Apps like Twitter,TumblrTrip Advisorare a fantastic source of information but, at the same time, facilitate the interaction with other community members while entertaining them.
3. EDUTILITY (Educational + Utility) is the convergence between education and utility apps. DropboxEvernoteWord Reference are example of apps that are task-specific but, for their nature, intrinsically incorporate a personal development process.
4. INFOUTILITY (Informational + Utility) is the category where informational and utility apps are positioned. The information generate through these apps can be used to solve an everyday problem. Waze, is one of the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app, gives you real-time traffic info and suggests you the best way to avoid traffic.
Whenever you have the need to create a mobile app, besides your business objectives, it urges to understand what is the category in which this app falls. This will help you assessing current best practices and setting the right priorities in terms of features implementation.
Alex Mari - Founder & Creative Director of BrandMate -

5 changes in consumer-brand relationships

The advent of social media and the diffusion of digital technology have created significant changes in the way consumer-brand relationships are conceived, both by consumers and by companies. This pst discusses some of the major factors that have contributed to this evolution.
1. Personal vs. public conversations
A few decades ago, interactions between consumers and companies were rare and occurred almost entirely in a one-to-one manner. Consumers had few available options for retrieving information from a company as communication channels were limited; they could perhaps contact a call center, drive to a store, and, more recently, write an email. Interactions between companies (or intermediaries) and consumers were usually private.
Some recurring issues might have cost companies a lot of money as they needed to be addressed to different customers over and over again. Also, badly handled interactions would have had limited consequences for a company, as the fact could have been directly reported only to a small number of people. Nowadays, consumers have been empowered by technology and play an active role in conversations that increasingly take place on public platforms where everyone can form an opinion on the reported facts.
A company’s social skills and its ability to detect consumer’s needs and provide solutions can be evaluated by everyone. Soft skills are increasingly important, not only for the community manager, usually the brand’s interface with consumers, but for any marketing professional. In particular, they are required to master both the technical skills needed to properly utilize the vast array of social tools, but also soft skills, which are needed to effectively build solid relationships through these social tools (Smith, 2011).
Today, users can express their dissatisfaction online and their conversations can be easily shared, sometimes even going “viral”.
This extraordinary shift toward public brand-related conversations has forced companies to establish a presence in one or more social media platforms, regardless of their ability to effectively engage in a conversation.
However, the opportunity for a user to show appreciation for a brand is significantly higher today than it was previously, if the company approaches all interactions as a way to show conversational leadership, demonstrating its commitment to the relationship.
2. Local vs. global connections
Increased access to brands worldwide has encouraged the rise of global communities. Even small brands can now be distributed anywhere on the planet through e-commerce websites. The ability of brands to reach a global audience is certainly positive for many aspects, but it has also generated new challenges whenever the company is unable to deal with different cultures, values, geographic areas.
Those brands that manage online communities with a global approach and communicate in English on their platforms need to deal with issues such us misleading communications, low engagement from non-native speakers, and the inability to interact in languages other than English. Brands usually have different product line-ups in different countries, which can make it extremely complex to guarantee basic customer service to any online user.
The risk for the brand is to turn the page platform into a well-organized pressroom that avoids “costly” spontaneous interactions due to the obvious complexity of being generated in a global environment.
3. Regular vs. empowered consumers
One of the main objectives for companies in the online environment has been toaggregate groups of fans into communities based into social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter. In 2011, 46 percent of company executives in the United States said that an increase in brand advocates was one of the most important benefits of social media (Jive, 2011). This relational objective is coupled with the need to discover brand advocates and leverage them as a powerful marketing tool to promote product and spread brand communications.
Advocates tell twice as many people about their purchase as non-advocates(Comscore and Yahoo!, 2006). A recent article from Harvard Business Review estimated that a 12 percent increase in brand advocacy, on average, generated a two-fold increase in revenue and growth rate, plus boosts to market share. A company with 100,000 energized brand advocates can reach an average of 60 million people (Bernoff et al., 2010).
It is realistic to believe that any brand has at least one passionate consumer who will ideate, build, distribute, sell, buy, and recommend its products.
There are more than 60 million brand advocates in the US and billions worldwide(Zuberance, 2011). Globally, 80 percent of consumers recommend at least one brand, but the average number of brands that consumers recommended has increased significantly in all regions of the world (GfK Roper, 2006). Despite the proven importance of effectively managing advocates and experts, ONLY 20 percent of brands have implemented programs with such intentions (Marketing Charts, 2013).
4. Dispersed vs. technology-enabled communities
Many authors have pointed out the significant benefits of an active group of consumers. Community is a core part of social thought. People are held together through shared emotions, styles of life, and consumption practices. Community concept is an alternative form of social arrangements, also referred to as “neo-tribes” or “post-modern tribes”, and is not new in brand management studies. Consumers desire an experience-based marketing that emphasizes interactivity, connectivity, and creativity.
This explains why people are often more interested in the social links that come from brand affiliations than they are in the brands themselves. In fact, 25 percent of users choose to engage with brands because they want join the community of brand fans (Technorati Media, 2013). Brand communities are not built on brand reputation, but on members’ understanding of brand stories.
Being communities dynamic, neither fixed or permanent, its meaning and concreteness are always being negotiated by individuals through narratives. Although this is true whether group members interact electronically, via face-to-face communication, or both, we can argue that digital technology enabled the rise of these links between consumers. Consequently, the interaction between brands and consumers has also changed dramatically.
Creating a linking value among consumers in order to establish a sense of community and spur collaboration has become commonplace in the social media environment (Cova, 1997). More than 3.5 billion brand-related conversationstake place each day in the US (Keller Fay Group, 2007).
Companies should always have an active role into these conversations, but the members of the community must also be free to interact and collaborate among themselves without any restriction.
5. Spontaneous vs. Data-driven interactions
Some of the relationship barriers that companies face when establishing personal and long-lasting collaborations with strategic customers are a result of the complexity associated with the so-called “Big Data” phenomena.
Companies must increasingly deal with tasks including the following: (1) data gathering – collection of real, systematic and inexpensive data about consumers; (2) data integration – integration of consumer data collected from multiple platforms; (3) data diffusion – distribution to the key people in the organization; (4)data intelligence – usage of data to improve the experience, content, and service delivered during any interaction with consumers; and (5)data update – organizing and polishing the collected data to constantly update user profiles.
As consumers are consciously providing a large amount of personal data to companies through every registration – for example, related to a contest participation – they have increasing expectations on the way brands intelligently handle this information. For instance, if a user calls a customer service for information, he may wish to be automatically gathered as Mr. X. Also, he may expect the operator to know what kind of products he owns as well as the outcome of his previous interactions with the company.
Alex Mari - Founder & Creative Director of BrandMate -


martedì 17 febbraio 2015

Brand Ideals: connecting content strategy to relational strategy and brand strategy

According to Stengel (2011), brand managers should be conceived as “business artists”, leaders whose primary medium is brand ideals. 
The scope of these business artists is to discover (or rediscover) a brand ideal in one of the five fields of fundamental human values, to build a business culture around the ideal, to communicate the ideal across the organization and outside of it, to deliver a near-ideal customer experience, and toevaluate business performance against this ideal. 
Once a brand manager is clear on the brand ideals (that is, what the brand stands for), the next step is to create communication assets (and a campaign) to guarantee customer experience that supports the chosen ideal that will drive the business. 
An example is how Coca-Cola, which has long been associated with happiness, has transformed for a recent partnership with the James Bond movie “Skyfall” in a smart viral campaign. Instead of focusing on the classic movie franchise’s characteristics, Coke Zero challenged unsuspecting train passengers to “unlock the 007” in them for their chance to win exclusive tickets to the new film. However, the exclusive tickets were not free. Contestants had to go the extra mile and unlock their inner James Bond in less than 70 seconds to win. The humorous video spread across the web, showingCoca-Cola’s need to share happiness around the world.
Fig.2 - Coca-Cola ‘007 Campaign’
This is a good example of how brand ideals can be the focus of a marketing campaign, even if the link with the campaign’s theme is not immediately apparent. 
Thinking in terms of brand ideals enables managers to create consistency in their actions and make their message easy to communicate. 
I agree that:
in order to deliver brand essence consistently over time, the content strategy should be deeply linked to brand strategy and viewed through the lens of an overall relational strategy. 
This alignment between content, brand, and relational strategies must be considered in any channel and in any platform, whether online or offline.
Alex Mari - Founder & Creative Director of BrandMate -