Friday, January 1, 2016

Brand Ambassador Community: 5 reasons why you need one

1. Every brand lover regularly uses a set of brands from several product categories to express his or her personality. Brand lovers have a simultaneous emotional connection with multiple brands in their daily life.

Brand communities will no longer form around a single brand (e.g. Nutella) but around a network of brands (e.g. Nutella + Apple + Mini + Gucci). 

2. Brands see themselves at the very center of a relationship with thousands - if not millions - of consumers. A Brand Manager needs to realize the limited importance that people attribute to a single brand. 

Brands will no longer be the focal point of brand community, single consumers with their sophisticated consumption habits will.

3. People out there have brand preferences that are similar to yours and current technology allows us to bring these invisible links to life enabling the creation of communities based on truly similar people.

Brand communities will be tailored to the brand preferences of the individual in any given moment.

4. Demographic variables such as sex, age group, and race fail to capture the essence of an individual. Brand Managers should stop analyzing segments of people and focus on the individual's needs and wants. 

Consumers need to be envisioned and modeled not only as individuals, but as a complex and interrelated global network (i.e. social habits are equally important). 

5. All brands, in every product category, have got at least one passionate consumer among those that ideate, build, distribute, sell, use, recommend it. Every Brand Manager should discover and connect to the most influential people for different business purposes (e.g. market research, product innovation, promotional activities, influential's program). 

Direct consumer-brand collaboration will impact all brands and categories creating disintermediation in the marketing industry.

In synthesis, I believe that Brand Communities will be the great revolution that many envisioned (see Forrester) but not in the form that we used to conceptualize them. 

Alex Mari - Founder of BrandMate

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Does Apple need Social Media?

The world’s most valuable company and the second-most valuable brand doesn’t have an official social presence. A decade after the rise of social media, a significant number of ‘digital experts’ still find Apple’s indifference to social platforms puzzling, to say the least. The notoriously social-shy giant hired some of the best talents in digital last year and begun spreading corporate messages through their executives on Twitter. Apart from owning the social network Ping, the monitoring company Topsy and using the platforms LinkedIn for recruitment and YouTube (were comments are turned off), Apple seems to refuse joining the rush to social. Its CEO, Tim Cook, publicly stated ‘We have no plans to be in the social networking area’, also referring to a hypothetical competitive attack against Facebook. A few questions might have popped up in your mind.
1) Why Apple is so adverse to social media? 
There are at least four good reasons why an organization like Apple decides not to fully embrace social platforms. Each of following barriers to social business transformation is connected to peculiarities of the organization that significantly contributed to Apple’s success.
 a. One-way approach to communication (Strong leadership and vision)
Apple is founded on the old communications model of ‘single narrator’ born from its former charismatic and visionary leader. This centralized one-way approach was always preferred to multiple narratives (holistic model), where anyone in the company is empowered to engage in two-way discussion with consumers.
b. Perfect execution as a shared value (Cohesive corporate culture)
Apple’s ethos of perfection in every single aspect of the business is part of the company culture build on a remarkable sense of secrecy, both internal and external. That goes against the trail-and-error approach required by digital media, antithetical to Apple’s corporate culture.
c. Maniacal message control (High communication consistency)
Social media requires companies to partially give up control above brand messages because of its uncontrolled and unpredictable nature. Apple has a legacy of extreme message control while social platforms demand openness and transparency.
d. Limited media exposure (Extreme loyalty level)
Apple products intrinsically build emotional bonds with consumers. Its business model has unquestionably produced the ultimate customer satisfaction turned into the strongest community of brand ambassadors. Because the most loved brands are usually the most hated brands by someone else, a drastic exposure of Apple on social media is likely to generate a high flow of negative discussions difficult to handle for anyone.
 2) If Apple doesnt use social media why should other brands?
Let me use a metaphor to answer this question.
I see a charming man with high performance running shoes walking in front of me. He has visible impediments in his movements. I have the feeling the problem comes from ill-fitting shoes that stop him from doing something basic like walking. I start wondering whether he appears to have motor coordination disorders due to problematic physical condition or simply to ill-fitting shoes. I suddenly realize how, in my daily context, these elements can be part of a metaphor that explains how incorrectly organizations are approaching social media.
To run a marathon, we need both healthy body and top performance shoes. In my metaphor, the ‘body’ represents the business organization (processes) and the ‘shoes’ refer to social platforms and tools (technology). A company ready to succeed in the digital environment is a social business (body) that has embraced the right technology (shoes) to build strategic relationships in the long run (marathon). Shoes are fundamental for a remarkable performance. However, if you face a bodily issue, having comfortable, expensive, and high-tech shoes will not help you in making smooth, agile, and systematic movements.

At the same time, if your company presents structural problems that represent an implementation barrier to your social strategy, to be on social platforms and adopting tools for monitoring and managing conversations, will not generate significant value for your business. Most of the brands have issues with both the body, as they don’t have in place new processes to cure disorders (i.e. they are not ‘social business’), and the shoes, as they adopt social platforms and tools driven by wrong objectives (i.e. goal is not to establish and maintain long-lasting relationships). In my view,
if you want to stand still, walk and possibly run a marathon, you should spend resource finding the right cure to your body problems before you buy a new pair of shoes.
3) Whats the critical factor in your digital transformation journey?
Although processes (body) and platforms (shoes) are necessary to succeed in the digital era, there is a third element, perhaps the most important, often neglected by marketing managers. A ‘leadership team’, represented by the ‘mind’ in my metaphor, is responsible to set beliefs, ideals, values that translate into a strong vision.
Implementing social processes and platforms is often half of the digital transformation effort.The other 50% of the effort involves changing leaders practices, behaviors, and mindset.
The factor ‘mind’ explains those rare cases in which an exceptional leadership teamcan drive a company towards success by compensating for a rather rigid, hierarchical, closed organization (body) and lacking technological capabilities(shoes). A leadership team is the true brain of an organization, the only element with the ability to overcome any barrier and to function almost by itself. Thanks to their sheer grit and determination, some leaders own superpowers that allow the organization to ‘run’ under any circumstances, even with body problems and/or no shoes.
Apple’s approach to social media reminds me of Alex Zanardi, former Formula One driver who cheated death losing both his legs during a CART racing in Germany forth-teen years ago. Alex returned to professional motor racing after his horrific accident. Even more, he recently remerged as a champion cyclist ideating himself a carbon fibre racing bike designed to fit him like a ‘Cinderella shoes’. He sought to utilize some of the design technologies used in motor racing in ideating is racing chair. For example, he introduced a data acquisition system that keeps him abreast of the energy he is using. Alex won the New York marathon in 2011 and two handcycling gold medals in the London Paralympic games in 2012. After one Olympic competition he confessed that when he raced 21 years ago in the same circuit he went five times faster but, differently from before, this time he won.
Similarly to Alex, Apple has an uncommon drive to succeed.
Despite its organization might not show characteristics of a classic social business (body) and it refuses to invest into social platforms (shoes), its leaders’ superpowers (mind) make the organization succeed in unconventional terrains where others systematically fail.
Any Apple activity creates an experience that speaks about sense of community and brand proximity. Having an additional channel like Facebook, for the sake of following a trend, would add little or no value to its overall branding strategy.
In addition, I believe that leaders’ optimism is also a fundamental factor for success. After a brilliant victory, Alex Zanardi said: ‘I never looked at my accident in Germany as a disaster. Everybody can ask themselves useless questions – Why me? What did I do wrong? – but that’s an absolute waste of time […], I focus on the future’.
I am constantly exposed to managers that describe the social/digital capabilities of their organization in a dramatic way: ‘we are not very good in digital’, ’deep down we are not a social business’, ’we are a rather traditional company’, etc. This pessimistic mindset produces severe consequences for the entire business. In a context where everybody is learning and very few are leading, to consider yourself physically unable to walk, makes you automatically out of the next competition. You do not even qualify for the race. It is important to realize how this deficit is not necessarily related to a problem in your body or shoes, but rather in your mind. Ultimately, your mind controls your body and all your movements.
4) Is Apple a social business after all?
Social media is the technology that enables the creation of personal and long-lasting relationships with consumers.
Apple is definitely a social business that builds one-to-one relationships in ways and terrains other companies cannot even conceive, showing that you don’t necessarily need to be on social media in order to be truly social.
In primis, Apple revolutionized the concept of customer experience and build relationships with its customers through its quality products where social connotations reside in. Every company should strive to increase the level of loyaltyby making products that people love.
In secundis, Apple invested decades and billions in cultivating the strongest brand community of brand ambassadors of all time and it can rely on having lovers going to war for it, even without a social media strategy. Apple understood that brand communities are made by people. The role of the brand is to support their creation and growth. Communities are communities, whether they are online or offline, visible or invisible, technology enabled or not. In all cases, connections between people are real, they do exist.
In terzis, platforms in which Apple builds relationships are simply born differently (see the Apple Store experience). At the base, the company builds attachment with consumers by providing three higher level benefits in the form of services:preferential treatment, social recognition and social relationships (see my previous post for more details).
First step in any digital strategy definition is the understanding of ‘why’ you want to employ a transformation journey. That describes the value Apple and its consumers would receive from being on platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.
What would Apple gain? What would its customers/stakeholders gain? Probably not that much.
Alex Mari - Founder & Creative Director of BrandMate -

Saturday, May 2, 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 -

Saturday, April 25, 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 -

Friday, February 20, 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 -