The Hard Work of Radical Transparency

I remember feeling like my jaw had hit the floor.

I had just started my first week of working for IBM and had read about an article published by an analyst firm. Days earlier – working as a freelancer – I had tried to contact this very same firm to discuss another topic – and gave up, stonewalled at every turn. And when time is money (and that money is your own), you have to choose your battles.

But this time there was something different. “Gavin Heaton from IBM” sounded so much more important. I was FROM somewhere – and it was somewhere with a big brand name. And within seconds I was speaking with the document’s author – discussing some of the findings and thinking through how this might impact my new role.

Over the years that follow, I fell in love with branding. I loved the way it extended into people’s lives – how it opened the door to opportunity and how it could change our experiences – as customers, employees and partners. But these days, branding is a different beast. It’s been inverted.

Sure, many of the strengths and benefits remain, but we have to work harder now. We cannot rest (or hide) behind the brand in the way that we used to. We have to inhabit a world of radical transparency … one where our brand does not stand alone in the public sphere – but is accompanied into the spotlight by our governance processes, decisions, data and even the personalities of our staff, executives and stakeholders. Take a look below at this video from the SEOmoz team.

Are we ready for radical transparency? We’d better be – for it is already upon us.

SEOmoz on Radical Transparency in Business from Dan McComb on Vimeo.

Welcome to the Age of the Social Consumer

Names can be confusing – especially when it comes to that ever shrinking membrane between businesses and their customers. Variously we call them customers, clients, stakeholders and consumers. Sometimes these people – for they are always people – are also our employees, partners, shareholders, suppliers and even executives.

The lines have blurred.

Let me just say that this has always and forever been the case. It’s just that in the past we have been happy to jump between roles – to change our mask as we pass security and to leave it at the door as we enter our homes. But over the last 20-30 years there has been an erosion in the compact that we make with businesses that once allowed this play acting to continue. We no longer have a job for life. And we are equally likely to discard one brand for a competitor’s at a moment’s notice.

The casualty in all this is, of course, trust.

This introduction to the Q3 refresh of the Outlook on Australian Social Business in 2012 reveals the trend – that we are already, always connected. And that we are – now more than ever – digitally connected. And no matter whether we see ourselves as employees, customers, shareholders or executives (or anything in-between), we are all Social Consumers.

The updated report is divided into three sections:

  1. The new face of doing business looks at social consumers, their expectations and how these play out at the membrane of the brand
  2. The business value of customer intimacy investigates the style of interactions and engagement
  3. The hidden power of enterprise social media focuses on the types of behaviour, systems and processes that are being used behind our business firewalls

You can purchase and download your copy of the report today.

Are You an ENFJ or Are You Just Happy to Follow Me?

I have always liked “persona mapping” as a way of communicating types of behaviour to my marketing teams. It allows us all to “work from the same page”. There are a variety of ways that you can do this – behaviour mapping, Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, demographic segmentation and so on.

But while this is a useful theoretical exercise in developing your marketing strategy, how does it apply to social media?

Generally, in social media, I look for the underlying behaviour in the social objects that people leave in their online wake. I look for clues to understand their motivations rather than seeking to contextualise their digital interactions. For example, knowing who drives knowing how – so understanding the social platforms that people use reveals interesting and useful information that you can use to chart your path to engagement.

But check out this infographic from the folks at CPP.com – they’ve taken the MBTI approach and mapped profiles against social networks. How does it play out for YOUR profile (you can take this online MBTI test for a rough approximation). How does it rate for you?

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Mobile Youth: Cigarettes, Cell Phones and Cars

I first came across Graham Brown many years ago when I was working in youth marketing. I loved the way that he applied serious, insight driven analysis to the fast moving youth markets. And I loved the way that he understood and articulated the tribal nature of youth culture.

In this video introduction to his new book The Mobile Youth, Graham reveals an astonishing connection between the reduction in smoking in young people and the rise of smartphones. Despite widespread public health advertising, it was not until the social value of cigarette smoking (ie not the product but the social by-product of the act of smoking) was able to be released towards another social tool of similar or greater value, that young people began to shift their behaviour.

And this – for me – is the important lesson. So much advertising and marketing is directed towards product with very little focus on the desired behaviour. It’s like we are constantly pushing a “message” without any regard for the “context” in which our audiences live and work. This applies not only to youth segments but to any and all. Until we start to address what Graham calls “the social meaning” we will continue to see advertising and marketing failing to do its job.

You can start to remedy this situation by asking two important questions. Where do you customers belong. And what is the significance of that (to them)? The answers you find will tell you a whole lot about your marketing. You’ve just got to be sure to listen for the answer – even when it’s not what you want to hear.

Lots of Trends, But the Direction is Mobile

In the marketing world, we love trends. We use them to help us spot and understand what is happening in our marketplaces and what is shifting in the worlds of our customers. They can also be used to help us identify where we have gaps in our customer engagement strategy or where a competitive advantage is opening up.

But so often we focus only on the trend and miss the greater underlying movement that is taking place.

Take a look at this presentation from Edelman Digital. The focus is on trends across Asia Pacific – but the reality of this is, that the same can be easily applied to any country. We are, after all, globally connected. And when I say “we”, I mean “consumers”.

As the presentation points out, trends like “touch (see) and go” and “convergence emergence” are not just on the horizon – they are happening and visible in our marketplace now. And tying this to the Edelman Trust Barometer – a measure of the trustworthiness of our institutions – shows precisely why social networks and dominating the thinking of so many business executives.

But for my money, it’s not the trends that are important for us all to consider. It’s the direction. The report touches on this under “Trend 8: Device Freedom” – but reading between the lines, it’s clear that there is a substantial shift in consumer behaviour underway. And it will impact every angle, every industry, every message and every business – whether we like it or not. It’s the ever increasing ubiquity of the mobile phone (particularly the smart phone). It’s already changing the way we shop and the way we work, but it’s going to go further than most businesses are ready for.

Those that prepare and move earlier will be well placed to guide the customer experience and transform the notion of trust that is at the heart of our often fragile sense of brand loyalty. Those that fail to move may find that they fail in more ways than one. It’s taken well over 10 years to get to the year of the mobile, but the trending time is over – the direction is clear and it’s in the palm of your hand.

Trust + Scale Trumps Bright and Shiny – Australia Post Goes Digital

You can tell when you are in a Post Office by the smell. You open the door and you get the feint mustiness of paper, humidity and light glue mixed with a light dusting of body odour and desperation. It’s the same smell that has been around since I was a boy – and it greets me whenever I have to trudge my way to the local post office to pick up a package.

A cynic would suggest that it is entirely manufactured – that a consultant somewhere had manufactured a brand experience, turned it to liquid and issued it en-masse to every Australia Post location around the country. It is a smell that reeks of authority. It smells like my grandfather.

And visiting the local post office is just like spending a weekend with a half crazy relative. The in-store displays and products are as haphazard as Aunt Mable’s crocheted rugs – lots of bright colours, incongruous items and bargain basement prices right next to first day of issue stamps and rare coins.

But all that is about to change. Well online anyway.

It’s only taken twenty years, but Australia Post looks like it might just be going digital.

I’m pretty excited to see this transformation. The Australia Post Digital Mailbox promises security, accessibility and convenience. Imagine being able to store valuable documents like your passport somewhere easy to reach. Or being able to access account details, pay bills and receive registered email. It sounds almost too good to be true … and I would say that it was if it was an offering from anyone else.

But despite the external appearances – Australia Post clearly understands scale, the importance of trust and security. They understand what it takes to deliver services at volume and speed. And with an ageing population, a brand like Australia Post may well just deliver greater online participation and a deeper sense of trust than newer platforms and brands have been able to manage.

It’s great to see Australia Post take this bull by the horns, finally. My grandfather will be happy!

Social, Digital and Mobile in Asia

We Are Social Singapore are showing impeccable timing in releasing their Guide to Social Digital and Mobile in Asia – especially as I will be focusing more closely on the Asia Pacific and Japan region through 2012.

There are some fascinating statistics dotted throughout – but the most powerful aspect is the sheer scale of social media adoption that has already taken place across Asia. Just think – there are 750,000,000 social media users across Asia. And that accounts for over half of the population in Brunei, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore.

But if you are thinking social media in Asia – don’t think Facebook. It ranks a lowly fourth with 172 million members. That’s way behind Qzone with 536 million, Tencent with 310 million and Sina Weibo weighing in at 250 million.

And social is only part of the story. The clincher is mobile – with three quarters of the population (or almost 2.8 billion people) registered as mobile subscribers. Over one in five of these have access to the internet via their mobile phone – that’s 623 million people who use their phones to access online services.

But enough with the powerful, mind blowing statistics. Spend some time with the data in the report – but when doing so, think about behaviour. What is taking place with your customers in Asian markets? How does their usage, interest and even the limitations of mobile internet services impact the way you can engage them? What are the opportunities? And what shifts that lay ahead in 2012 can you use to surprise and delight your customers (and confound your competitors)?

Walkers, Talkers, Stalkers and Baulkers

Walkers, Talkers, Stalkers and Baulkers

 

Walkers, Talkers, Stalkers and BaulkersIn almost any field of endeavour, you are going to come across four different types of people. Your project may be some form of project implementation for your company. It could be that you have a creative idea for an advertising client. Or you may just want to go back to university to complete a degree. But no matter your focus, you will have to deal with walkers, talkers, stalkers and baulkers. In some cases these people will be your boss, or a member of your staff. They may be parents or friends.

But whether you like it or not, you need to figure out a way of dealing with each type. Let’s take a look at their characteristics.

Type Description How to help them
Walkers You want the Walkers on your project. They deliver. They understand the terminology and the goals and they know how to achieve outcomes. Because the Walkers are so busy resolving issues, achieving outcomes and so on, they may not communicate “up” as much as is necessary. Add regular communications into their mix of KPIs.
Talkers The talkers are evangelistic. They are great at the start of a project, picking up the terminology and the ideas and transmitting them to others. The Talkers are often purists which means that they are sometimes unwilling to compromise. Help them see the win-win outcome – but also push them to move from “talk” to “walk”.
Stalkers The vast majority of the population are Stalkers. They will watch from a distance but don’t personally commit. They won’t get in the way but they won’t participate either. The Stalkers will often do a great job – but will only do as they are instructed. Inertia is the domain of the Stalker. You can use the Talkers to engage and activate these folks. You can point towards the Walkers as aspirational role models, but the challenge is in building momentum.
Baulkers The Baulkers are the intransigent group. They may be active detractors or simply explain all the reasons why your project will not succeed. They can sometimes feign support but will often move back to an inert or negative position very quickly. The Baulkers have the power of negativity on their side. As we generally don’t like change, the Baulker appeals to our risk averse natures. They discredit the ideas underpinning your project and those who support them. Leave them in a room with a Talker.

 

Any long term project success requires the activation of all four of these types. The important thing to remember is that you don’t need to change these people. They won’t change for you.

But they may change their opinion of your project.

Take the time to understand the motivations of each of these types and play to their strengths and weaknesses. It is about playing the person, not the project.

Working with the people will deliver your project – but focusing only on the project will more deeply entrench the positions of the Walkers, Talkers, Stalkers and Baulkers. Your challenge is to create movement between the categories – and the best way to do that is activate their talents.

Give it a try, you might just find you succeed wildly.

Ditch Your Fans and Find Your Lovers

UPDATED: Almost any article about social media that you read will focus on “likes”, “fans” and “friends”. At first glance, “social” media appears to have equated positive relationship terminology with relationship.

But when you look at the motivation behind “liking” a brand on Facebook – it’s decidedly transactional. There is a focus on discount and promotion, exclusive content and so on. Now, while a strategy addressing these desires will build your “fan base”, I’m increasingly sceptical that it will build you anything more than a glorified mailing list. In fact, researcher Dan Zarella has shown "The amount of 'conversation' that happens on your Facebook posts has nothing to do with the number of people who will see it" – suggesting Facebook Conversations Don't Achieve The Marketing Boost You Desire.

For those brands that want a little more from the investment they are making in social media, you need to dig a little deeper.  You need to look for those whose pupils dilate at the mention of your name.

It’s time to ditch your fans and find your lovers.

This is no easy task. You need to listen. Monitor. Pay attention. Dig. Analyse. Engage. Converse. Respond. And measure. You need to rinse and repeat. What I call continuous digital strategy.

But thanks to Sean Howard, you can now follow a step-by-step guide to using social media monitoring to find the people who already love your brand. The approach uses live data to help you truly understand who your real brand advocates are – and as is almost always the case (as is shown in the Nikon case study) – your most powerful advocates are rarely those with high klout scores or large follower bases. They are the people who consistently generate content and comment around your brand properties and digital assets.

I know this will make you cry – we all love the large numbers and the occasional mention from a social media superstar. But if you want to build lasting social media value for your digital properties, it’s time to ditch your addiction to “fans” – because when it comes to social media, it’s all about the love. Baby.

What Makes People Follow a Brand?

When I first really became interested in social media, I was working for a marketing and promotions agency as head of their interactive division. This gave our work a particular skew – we were always looking at the performance metrics of our efforts – how could we drive trial, influence people to consider and love our clients’ products – and how do we measure and improve on this over time. And since that time, it has been clear to me that social media really is about promotion – in that industry sense.

And now the GetSatisfaction team have put out an infographic that confirms at least part of this theory – the largest proportion of people surveyed follow brands so they can learn of special offers and deals (36.9% on Facebook and MySpace, 43.5% on Twitter). So if your online strategy doesn’t have a promotional component you’re going to be disappointing much of your audience.

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