Brand Aids: How To Launch Your Brand Into Cyberspace


The ubiquity of today's strongest and most reputable brands - among them Lego, IKEA and Barilla, according to the 2007 list of Forbes Most Reputable Companies - is in large part due to stalwart communications strategies that have been shaped and refined for years, if not decades. What, then, does that mean for these brands - and the communicators who protect and grow them - in the age of digital communications and consumer-generated content? Recent studies and reports confirm what most communications professionals could have guessed with some certainty: Social media users and online influencers are driving the need for new branding strategies. For example, a June 2007 report by Agency.com, in conjunction with Brand Genetics and Hall & Partners, revealed that "Uploaders" - Internet users who drive social media - are hugely effective as brand advocates. Among the findings: They are 15% more positive about brands they are interested in; and, 83% will actively recommend a product or service they like.   However, even more important than these statistics are the implications they have on communications professionals and their efforts to launch brands into cyberspace. These "Uploaders" are marketing literate and thrive on driving conversations online, especially when it comes to products/services they like - and the ones they loathe. These people are informers of the general public, populating blogs and message boards with product reviews and critiques. Most important, these people are capable of growing brands exponentially - it's just a matter of engaging them in terms of their own language and lifestyle. Here's a plan for getting started: *Identify digital influencers as resources, not targets. These "uploaders" - or, more generally, digital influencers - must be treated as resources, not targets, as they wield far more control than passive consumers. When introducing a brand to the digerati, the Agency.com report recommends identifying the influencers in your industry and inviting them to be "brand advisors." Digital influencers don't have to be an official part of the company; rather, they should be used as resources when launching a new product, targeting a new audience or shaping digital strategies. Think of it as a dry run for an upcoming promotion: Let them see the campaign or use the product, and they will be quick to identify kinks. *Integrate your brand's message. The messaging behind a brand should not be different for on and offline audiences. Thus, introducing your brand to online audiences doesn't mean re-branding. It does mean that consistency is key, so take an honest look at the brand's core message to make sure it is strong enough to withstand traditional and new media dissemination. Case in point: Interbrand's 2007 "Brand Marketers Report" found that the highest percentage (36%) cited "consistency" as the most important aspect of successful branding. (See sidebar for additional results.) "Every interaction a customer has with your brand must be uniform across all marketing platforms," says blogger and brand consultant David Airey. "How consistently is your brand's message communicated? Do the messages of your various marketing programs conflict? Your online marketing should be fully integrated with your offline efforts, carrying a single branding message throughout." *Understand your brand's competitive advantage. When broaching online audiences, communications professionals must be aware of Internet users' consumption habits. These people (knowingly or not) interact with an overwhelming number of brands, products and services when they surf the Internet, so you must be aware of what your competitors are saying to get their attention. Search for mentions of their products and services on Web sites, blogs and message boards. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses will help you identify your own. *Appeal to the customer's inner avatar. Perhaps most unsettling to PR/communications executives will be this revelation: A study by interactive and direct marketing agency Proximity Worldwide found that brands aren't adapting to the changing identities of their customers in virtual worlds, and that those customers are more inclined to have "fragmented" personalities in online contexts. (See sidebar for seven worst online-branding practices.) "In Second Life, you live in a new body and take on the identity of your 'avatar' - that is, a being you've created as a representation of yourself." So writes Harvard Business Review Senior Editor Paul Hemp in "Avatar-Based Marketing." However, based on the Proximity research, how true a representation can this online identity be? In response to this issue of identity convergence, Proximity CEO Mat Mildenhall says, "People are more and more comfortable having multiple, fragmented versions of themselves, yet brands aren't doing anything different." This conundrum is a complex one for communications professionals, who must now engage in research of two audiences: real people, and the virtual identities they assume, as the two no longer correlate with one another. Hemp continued his contemplation with this: "Whom do your marketing efforts target? Sure, the real-world human controls the real-world wallet. The avatar, though, arguably represents a distinctly different "shadow" consumer, one able to influence its creator's purchase of real-world products and conceivably make its own real-world purchases in the virtual world. At the least, it may offer insights into its creator's hidden tastes." The trend of virtual branding has led to yet another cyber-speak term: adverworlds, or completely branded virtual worlds. Notable examples include Wells Fargo, which launched Stagecoach Island to educate teens about money, and the now-defunct DaimlerChrysler, which built Mokitown to educate preteens on traffic safety. As reported in Hemp's article, "When marketing online, 'you want sustained engagement with the brand rather than just a click-through' to a purchase or product information, says Bonita Stewart, responsible for interactive marketing for DaimlerChrysler's Jeep, Chrysler, and Dodge brands. 'Avatars create an opportunity for just this type of engagement.'" CONTACTS: Paul Hemp, phemp@hbsp.harvard.edu; Mat Mildenhall, mildenhall.m@proximitylondon.com; David Airey, http://www.davidairey.com Aspects Of Successful Branding Consistency 36.0% Understanding of Customer/Target 18.2% Message/Communication 14.7% Creative/Design/Brand ID 12.8% Relevance 12.4% Differentiation/Uniqueness 12.0% Key Stakeholder Buy-In 10.9% Positioning 9.7% Clarity 8.9% Awareness/Recall/?Memorability 8.1% Focus 7.0% Authentic/Truthful/Honest/Accurate 7.0% Leadership 5.4% Budget/Cost 4.3% Strategy 3.5% Product 3.5% Research 3.1% Innovation 2.3% Simplicity 2.3% Delivering on Promises 2.3% Public Relations 1.6% People 0.8% Marketing 0.8% Advertising 0.4% Other 93.8% Total 290.7% Source: 2007 Brand Marketer's Report, Interbrand's Annual Survey on Brands and Branding 7 Steps Guaranteed To Ensure Failure For Brands Online 1. Playing 'LogoCop' with your brand 2. Being dull, boring or useless 3. Behaving exactly as you do offline 4. Hiding the truth 5. Believing there is a difference between human needs online and offline 6. Confusing 'peer to peer' with 'targeting' 7. Assuming you have a right to be there Source: Proximity Worldwide

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