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In digital age, branding is king

Publication Date : 10-08-2012

 

Social media can help make or break a firm’s reputation

 

In these days of the Internet and social media, branding has never been more important.
 
As of the end of last year, nearly a third of the world’s population or 2.2 billion are connected to the Internet, and in Asia, the Philippines was ranked seventh in terms of number of netizens, with an estimated 29.7 million having access to the worldwide web.
 
The Philippines was also eighth among countries with the most number of Facebook subscribers at 28.55 million, and it was estimated that almost all Filipinos who access the Internet subscribe to the world’s most popular social network.
 
About 63 per cent of Facebook users in the country are 18-34 years old. Teens from 13-17 account for 19 per cent while only 8 per cent of Filipinos at least 45 years old subscribe to Facebook. In terms of gender, more than half of Facebook subscribers in the Philippines are female at 52 per cent.
 
These demographics influence how social media operates in the Philippines.
 
What is social media?
 
Academic Professor of social media, Andreas Kaplan of the ESCP Europe Business School defines social media as a means of using web-based technologies to generate user content for social interaction and communication.
 
Six categories of social media have been cited and these include collaborative projects like online database Wikipedia where netizens can post and pool knowledge and information on particular topics; user-generated content communities like YouTube, Delicious and Flickr where multimedia content like videos, pictures, slides, etc., can be uploaded and shared; social networking sites like Facebook or LinkedIn fanned by users who share interests or activities; individually maintained blogs and micro blogs like Word Press or Twitter that serve as online personal diaries or forum for regular commentaries; virtual game worlds like World of War craft, a multi-player online role-playing and virtual communities like the Second Life propelled by computer-based simulated environments and avatars created by users.
 
Today, content is generated by users, who have become so empowered to influence content and its effect on people. And like all tools, it can be used for good and bad.
 
Baseless product reviews, erroneous information and advertising comments, malicious uploads about products, brands and companies can so easily destroy a nameless, no-recall product, brand or company.
 
A product so ubiquitous can lose its fame and customers overnight. This is inevitable for a product with no proper, adequate and sustained historical brand investment and personality. Branding can help cushion the adverse effects of negative reports.
 
Social media ills
 
Battling erroneous information, rumours and social media abuses on the Internet requires the following:
 
One, invest in positive branding long before the social media debacle or attack happens.
 
A brand goes beyond a product name, logo or symbol but includes any and all associations that positively help to differentiate a product, service or person. Not all products with a name are considered brands even if they have long been in the market.
 
True brands enjoy immense total and top-of-mind awareness, a following of customers almost like a cult, perception of good quality, positive associations and familiarity with all brand elements that include logo and color executions, advertising, jingles, selling or tag lines, etc.
 
If a positive and good brand were a person, he would generally enjoy good moral character.
 
With such good moral character, it will take much more for social media abusers to bring a good brand down. However, it is most difficult to build and sustain a brand.
 
This requires resolute vision, guts and courage, and investments in good, positive brand building efforts as opposed to short-term marketing push. Consumers are generally more forgiving and doubtful of social media rumors that surround brands they are most familiar with.
 
Dominos Pizza, a brand with a 30-minute delivery claim to fame, succumbed to a social media nightmare in 2009 when two Dominos employees at a North Carolina franchise operation were shown tampering with a customer’s pizza and sandwich order.
 
The first employee stuck a cheese stick up his nose and placed the piece on the garlic cheese bread. He sneezed onto the pizza and boxed it up for delivery. The second employee took the video and commented, “In about five minutes, they will be sent out to delivery, where somebody will be eating these, yes, eating them.”
 
That video, posted on YouTube, had subsequent postings on Facebook and Twitter and had gone viral with more than 500,000 views.
 
Patrick Doyle, Dominos president, soon came online and offline, apologetic and honest, but firm in his reassurance of quality control.
 
Brand personality
 
Later, it was learned that the offending employees had previous prank offences.
 
Dominos Pizza had its previous branding campaign and initiatives to thank for as its legions of loyal customers forgave and moved on.
 
Two, build a clear-cut brand personality and differentiation. Not all brand advertising claims to have a personality. Most are one-time campaigns meant to capture the moment.
 
This is especially true for retail brands. When brands have a clear-cut persona, consumers—and netizens—find it easier to rationalise the brand’s actions.
 
Bayo, a local clothier, was not so lucky with its “What’s Your Mix?” campaigns when it was forced to withdraw and apologise for what was labelled as a racist campaign. The campaign used Filipino models with mixed foreign blood and cited “the mixing and matching of different nationalities with Filipino blood as almost a sure formula for someone beautiful and world-class.”

The intent was analogous to mix and match clothing. The Belo Men’s ad campaign executions also got a negative response. The campaign promoted men’s skin care and whitening line with the executions “10 per cent lighter, 100 per cent mas sosyal” and “10 per cent lighter, 100 per cent more numbers.” The Belo ads have since been withdrawn and founder Vicki Belo has issued an apology for coming up with supposed racist ads.
 
On the contrary, an optical brand, EO-Executive Optical, known for its expert eye care, survived the social media crisis that erupted when a small netizen group mislabelled one of its billboard ads, called Cauliflower, as racist.
 
A much bigger group of netizens decried the wrongful interpretation of the ad and argued that the ad was simply a witty, humourous presentation of a dark-skinned Filipino male suitor with good eyesight and holding yellow roses winning over another fair-skinned Filipino suitor with poor eyesight clasping a cauliflower.
 
Netizens said there was nothing racist about it. EO-Executive Optical has always been known for its witty brand character and humourously presenting snippets of true-to-life poor eyesight situations that ultimately affect a good quality of life at work, play and even relationships.
 
Three, invest in social media metrics.
 
In many markets today, there are social media and analytics companies that help brands determine the effectiveness of their social media campaign while warning them of possible social media crises.
 
These companies listen to conversations and dialogue in all major social networks and public blogs and micro-blogs and track the social direction of all the comments and opinions. Socialbakers is one social media and digital analytics company with brand clients in 75 countries.
 
Social conversations
 
Another local company is Sencor, a knowledge process-outsourcing provider that is able to monitor social conversations and help marketers identify performance gaps of their brand as well as brand strengths based on customer opinions.
 
Social media and the digital environment are here to stay and will inevitably affect the productive lives of many brands.
 
Brand marketers and strategists must prepare for a truly challenging environment where a brand crisis can happen overnight.
 
On the other hand, wise brand marketers can leverage on this new environment to make their brand even stronger.
 
 The writer is chief brand strategist of MKS Marketing Consulting and is the author of the best-selling branding book “Colour Folders in the Mind: A Branding Story.”

 

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