13 April 2012
We’ve told people where we are and what we’re doing. Now it seems we’re showing them too. We’re making our friends, family and contacts part of our life experiences and sharing our stories in ever more visual ways. Whether at home, at work, on the move - it’s all being shared – whenever and wherever. They say a picture tells a thousand words, and that’s probably never been more true.
This Visual Economy is spreading fast due to several factors. First of all, people are being more careful with the visual content they share online, curating their life experiences and glossing over the ugly bits. Tech has improved too; desktop, mobile and tablet devices all have faster connections making higher quality visual content easier to share. Plus, competition between different social channels has increased (particularly between Facebook and Google) who seek new ways for personalize user accounts to differentiate their channels.
You would have to live under a rock not to have noticed how fast Pinterest has grown in the past six months. The fast-growing channel is helping us look at the web more visually; from travel to home décor, it’s letting us show our followers we’re creative and tasteful.
Another huge step in the growth of our Visual Economy was the announcement this week that Facebook acquired Instagram for a staggering $1bn. Facebook already has 100 million users uploading photos everyday, so this isn’t about growing its userbase.
Instagram has a powerful following – it’s a fun, almost left-of-centre brand. It’s inherently visual by default. Some commentators have compared Facebook’s acquisition to that of YouTube by Google, as purely tactical move. I think it’s more strategic than that – it’s an acquisition similar to Microsoft’s purchase of Skype last year. It’s about winning the hearts and minds of the community and essentially buying a brand. Facebook wants the creative brand equity.
It is also interesting to see Google+ get a visual refresh this week. Like so many other Google-branded properties in 2012, G+ got a refresh with a much clearer interface. Interestingly, images are much larger, and like Facebook’s Timeline, G+ also gets a more visual ‘Cover Photo’ option.
Is the Visual Economy a sign of Social reaching maturity or proof that we just like looking at nice things?
14 March 2012
Yesterday I attended the Cloudforce Essentials conference at Robinson College in Cambridge. Cloudforce Essentials are smaller conferences hosted by Salesforce to promote the concept of Social Enterprise and demonstrate the capabilities of their cloud-based products.
As an agency-based strategist or planner, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is something that all too often seems to be forgotten about or simply shrugged off as a responsibility for the client’s sales and marketing team, rather than us.
I don’t think that should be strictly true. Whilst we’re not necessarily responsible for CRM, being able to understand the nuts and bolts of how a business operates is crucial. Plus, business performance is really the ultimate metric of an effective brand strategy, far beyond ‘awareness’ or ‘visual identity’. This is why I wanted to find out more about the kinds of tools that Salesforce provides.
I was most keen to find out more about Radian6, Salesforce’s social media analytics tool. With the social media clients I work with, frequently I want to show them the success of their online activities but at present, this requires a time-consuming report that involves measuring a combination of data, from Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, Klout, PeerIndex and so forth. I transfer that data into a tailored infographic-style report with specific and actionable insights to build or improve their content.
By all accounts, Radian6 appears to be a very advanced social media analytics tool but I suspect it’s certainly not a ‘one size fits all’ solution and not suitable for every type of brand. If you are a large multi-national brand like Coca Cola with thousands of mentions every second, being able to have a tool that quickly segments that data into graphs and reports would be useful.
But if like me, your clients are more focussed on content then very few analytics tools will be able to provide you with detail content-based insights. I think my clients would find Radian6 ideal for identifying which gender, age group or city was most heavily-influenced by a campaign but would likely turn to me to make sense of it and provide some actionable next steps.
Radian6 aside, a valuable insight from the conference was Alex Mead of CityLink, the UK-based courier brand with a great case study for using social media as an effective customer service tool. Before switching to a cloud-based CRM from Salesforce, CityLink didn’t answer 90% of customer service calls or emails. Yep, 90%. That would have been a lot of unhappy customers.
Another great insight was the introduction of Chatter, Salesforce’s internal social network. Having only previously been familiar with the likes of the rather horrific Zammer, Chatter appears to enable so much more - you can follow specific colleagues, projects and documents. What’s exciting about Chatter is that it’s not a social network that an organization implements in addition to running the business, it's how the business is functions. Everything goes through it – from finance to marketing to sales to admin. It’s tools like Chatter that make it easy to understand why Forbes labelled Salesforce as “most innovative” and perhaps the ultimate B2B brand of our time.
28 February 2012
Announced the launch of MITx - offering a portfolio of MIT courses for free to a virtual community of learners around the world. It will also enhance the educational experience of its on-campus students, offering them online tools that supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences. Now anyone, anywhere can experience learning from one of the world's finest education organizations. Good stuff.
You know what, chocolate should be fun and magical. The only thing missing in Cadbury's latest TV spot are some Oompa Lumpas. Nicely executed and across social.
Now, don't get me wrong, whilst I love the regular Fiat 500’s cute face and tidy dimensions (and even the J.Lo advertising), this vulgar oversized brand extension needs a good gym workout. What does the L stand for anyway, Lardy? It’s almost as hideous as a MINI Countryman. I said almost.
After December’s disastrous trading results, Tesco announced they’re delaying the launch of a Tesco retail bank. Boo hoo. It’s officially time to cut up your Clubcard and say “See Ya” to this monopoly. £1 in every £7 really shouldn't be spent in a Tesco.
16 February 2012
Now, I'm sure plenty of consumer focus groups told Porsche that 'Macan' was a wonderful name. It's just a shame that Porsche's branding department couldn't sense the irony in their tone and is actually putting the Porsche Macan into production, along with it's other pepperly-named Cayenne. On top of all that, what's with using "lifestyle" sports to market an SUV? This isn't 1995.
3 February 2012
Forget the football, we all know the Superbowl is all about the commercials. Ahead of Sunday’s big day, here are my top 5 Superbowl car commercials:
Chevrolet Camaro – "Happy Grad"
Honda CR-V – "Matthew’s Day Off"
Volkswagen – "The Dog Strikes Back"
Audi - "Vampire Party"
Chevrolet Silverado - "2012"
Chevrolet Camaro – "Happy Grad"
Honda CR-V – "Matthew’s Day Off"
Volkswagen – "The Dog Strikes Back"
Audi - "Vampire Party"
Chevrolet Silverado - "2012"
20 December 2011
It might have been another tempestuous year for world politics and the global economy, but there were some fantastic brands doing great work in 2011. Here’s a look back at some of the highlights, and with particular reference to UK activity.
The G Word
It would be difficult to talk about some of the year’s biggest brand activities without mentioning Google. Google’s push to become a legitimate Facebook competitor went into overdrive this year, and whilst some of its activities – like launching its first social network, Google+ - have been quite subjective, they mark a vital shift in positioning the Google brand to own far more than just search. What’s more, 2012 will be an even more interesting year as G+ matures and evolves and Google launches a raft of other new products, like Google Wallet, which is already changing the way Android users shop online.
You Sound Like You’re From London
Frozen yoghurt brand Pinkberry said Hello London when it finally reached British shores with its very own store at Selfridges. Pinkberry wasn’t the only new American brand the Brits said hi to, with online newspaper brand The Huffington Post setting up shop in the UK.
Huffington Post UK extended its offering beyond the technology and culture publishing we’re accustomed too, with new departments like celebrity and entertainment, making HuffPost a bigger news and lifestyle destination, extending its appeal to the mass market.
Yo Yo! We’re Farming in Harmony
Organic yoghurt brand Yeo Valley launched a follow-up to last year's superb farming rap with an all-new music video based around their brand proposition ‘Live in Harmony’. Launching during the commercial breaks for X Factor, Yeo Valley revealed their very own boy band - who to be completely honest, wiped the floor of any of this year’s X Factor contestants. Great brand-building advertising like this, along with good quality products have helped to turn Yeo Valley into an FMCG success story of 2011. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from the surprisingly irreverent dairy brand, and with sales up at least 15% year on year, it’s been worth it.
Whilst on the subject of farming, The National Trust decided to bring Farmville to life with MyFarm, an online community of farmers built around one of their trust properties. For just £30, MyFarm offers people the chance to become real farmers on one of its properties in Cambridgeshire – helping to make decisions about livestock, feed, what to farm and the general running of the estate, as well as being able to visit in person.
Against a backdrop of the highest youth employment for a generation, Starbucks announced 200 new stores in the UK - most of which will be drive-thru outlets.
Good news for supercar brand Mclaren who returned with their first new model since 1994, the MP4-12C. Whilst it might sound like a microwave, this new supercar is anything but a domestic appliance. Taking on the might of the supercar world is no small feat, nor is its advanced Surrey factory or endorsement from Formula One racing driver Lewis Hamilton. 2012 looks set for another new Mclaren model, the MP4-27, which if the MP4-12C is anything to go by, won’t be a blender or a juicer either.
2 December 2011
By blanketing London’s streets with American brands, are marketers forgetting the importance of brand experience, not just product availability?
London is one of the most culturally diverse cities on Earth with 1 in 3 residents born overseas. This makes it a great melting pot for global brands, so it’s no surprise that American companies have made some of the biggest impacts on this side of the pond.
It began in the 1970s and 1980s with McDonalds, Burger King and Gap, and in the 1990s with the introduction of Starbucks. But it was only in late 1990s and early 2000s that the UK’s love affair with American brands truly began, and beyond that of hamburgers or jeans. Today American brands are a huge part of the British retail landscape, with the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Costco, Hollister, Whole Foods Market, American Apparel, Chipotle Grill, Forever 21, Aldo, all making the UK their European base.
It’s interesting to see how some of America’s premium fashion and retail brands have made it big in the UK, whilst brands from other sectors fail, with American car brands and tech brands leaving Brits unimpressed and uninterested.
You only have to walk past London’s huge Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store on Savile Row to witness the huge appetite consumers have for the preppy clothing giant. But today, trips to Abercrombie & Fitch in London are avoided; the hoards of teenage girls from the Home Counties and the never ending supply of tourists makes it one of London’s busiest retail environments, which would be tolerable if it weren’t for the fact you’re purchasing an item you can buy in a quiet suburban American mall for half the price.
The ‘supply and demand’ Abercrombie has created by expecting customers to line up outside it’s A&F and Hollister stores has for some, had quite the negative impact on the brand – huge demand means huge crowds which therefore impacts on the quality of the experience, so whilst Abercrombie might have gone to extraordinary efforts to ensure the look, the smell, the image, the furniture, the visual merchandising (staff) is what you’d expect of any of its US stores, they didn’t bank on the tourist scrum and unpleasant experience of it just being too crowded.
It’s not just Abercrombie that’s falling short on experience. Doughnut brand, Krispy Kreme, originally a novelty in the UK, could only be purchased in Harrods when it first arrived. Now, thanks to a POS partnership with Tesco, every supermarket and garage forecourt has a Krispy Kreme POS and nobody’s convinced those donuts are fresh or appealing.
Starbucks has always prided itself on putting experience first, Howard Schultz, CEO once said,
"We believed very early on that people's interaction with the Starbucks experience was going to determine the success of the brand."
Starbucks is certainly one of America’s global success stories and the UK is no exception, but for all their talk of consistent experience, Starbucks is a prime example of an American brand that is not born equal. The sheer size of its operations makes consistent experiences and levels of service extremely difficult. Starbucks service in the UK falls short on its US counterparts – from the choice and freshness of products to the little touches from American Starbucks baristas – like asking for your name when ordering – that simply make it a much better experience over there.
Starbucks' recent announcement that it plans to open 200 more branches in the UK - predominantly drive-thru - will be an interesting move, providing an experience (drive-thru coffee) that has previously been overlooked by most coffee brands in the UK.
Of course, not all American brands have ventured across the pond, and there are some that could offer something rather different to UK consumers. For example, quirky US grocery chain, Trader Joes, offers cheap yet good quality products in a fun store environment that always manages to feel independent where so many American chain box stores don’t. And whichever city you’re in, you can be sure Trader Joes reflects the neighbourhood in some way, shape or form. Trader Joes would certainly make an interesting alternative to the ambiguous UK supermarket scene where you either shop cheap (Asda, Tesco) or shop quality (Waitrose, M&S) – Trader Joes could offer us both.
Starbucks’ service and Abercrombie’s overcrowding aside, there are some seriously promising examples of American brands getting product, service and experience just right for the UK market. Texas-based organic grocery brand Whole Foods Market has tapped into the burgeoning American expat community in leafy parts of west and north London, plus they’ve spread east into Stoke Newington in London’s up and coming East End - an area that is arguably the UK’s answer to Brooklyn. At the other end of the spectrum, wholesale brand, Costco, has struck a cord with British consumers and businesses looking to save money by buying in bulk – something the giant American firm knows all about. And with further expansion from the likes of youth fashion brands like Forever 21 and Aldo, it really would seem Britain’s love affair with American brands is far from over.