Grassroot VS Allstar–Facebook and Google+

Google Plus launched “Page” on Nov 7th 2011. Similar with Facebook “Page”, it offers a dedicate platform for business and customer interactions. This pushes Google and Facebook in head-to-head competition.

Facebook or Google Plus

Google Plus, the latest attempt from the internet giant to invade social networking has attracted great media attention. The growth was fast: one month since its opening for general public the users reached 40 million. However, it is still far away from Facebook in terms of number of subscribers.

Google’s ambition has been seen through its latest “power user” strategy: Kim Kardashian, Ashton Kutcher, Britiney Spears and some high-level political figures like UK Prime Minister David Cameron, have recently started their Google Plus accounts. It is expected that Google Plus will attract more users really fast but the reality is still uncertain. What makes the competition interesting is how the two social media sites try to grow and achieve the critical mass: Facebook insisted its edu request and it took Facebook about 2 years until it opened to general public. Google Plus, on the other hand, only waited for about 2 months for accepting public subscription. 2011 is quite different than 2004, when social media was conceiving. So it might make more sense for Google Plus to go for a Allstar power user approach.

Kim Kardashian is on Google Plus

David Cameron is on Google Plus

So what matters to business users. Just a few weeks passed, a lot of debate rose to determine which is better: Google Plus Page or Facebook Page. At this moment, I would say it’s too early to tell. But with a much smaller audience, the answer is obvious: Facebook has the advantage of fan base.

But what matters actually is not quantity, rather is about the quality of fans and quality of the relationship. Google Plus Page therefore were said to have the following advantages: Google + Page might benefit from better Google search results; Google Plus Page may better establish a business-oriented communication platform rather than Facebook “one for everything” and questionable business-customer bond. However, the internet “Matthew Effect” is not that easy to overcome. Google Plus Page has a long way to go to beat Facebook Page.

Again, it is too early to tell the fate of Goolge Plus Page. But for business, especially small ones, why not start the account now before others steals you name on Google Plus Page. Then share some content form Facebook page or your blog and play around with the new functions. Until the trend becomes clearly, you can’t ignore the giant like Google: just like no one could image how popular Gmail would be today? Who can tell that Google won’t be the one for everything.


Google--"One for Everything?"



Benetton Plays Controversy in Social Media this Time

Ad from UNhate Campaign

The shocking picture of president Obama kisses Chinese Chairman Hujintao appeared on the Internet Nov 15th 2011. It is from Benetton again, who notoriously launched a series of highly controversial ads in the past. It seems that Benetton has come back. This time it wants to make a bigger impact with the new tools available like social media.

This is an exciting marketing event, not only because its controversy, but also more related to the fact that we are able to simultaneously observe how marketers plant the story and how media disseminates the influence of brand messages. It’s like a live show of how Benetton experiments its marketing principles in the digital era!

What this campaign is all of about? 

The campaign started on Nov 15th 2011 in the name of “UNhate foundation” by Benetton. The central theme is to build “a culture of tolerance”and to “combat hatred”. The proposition is expressed by “kiss”, the “most universal symbol of love”. It was said to connect to Benetton’s core brand value and to embrace many “UNhate” initiatives, for example, establish “UNhate” day, facilitate acceptance of diversity and help children. The campaign itself consists of a short film, images political/religious leaders on media, billboards with same images in major cities around the world. Of course, the campaign website provides “kisswall” and “Unhate list” where participants can upload their own pics and messages in connection with Facebook and Twitter.

Did it go viral?

It would make an elegant but quiet marketing communication project if the campaign hadn’t featured the following influential figures having kisses: U.S. President Obama, Chinese Chairman Hu Jintao, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and many others…

Ad from UNhate Campaign

Ad from UNhate Campaign

Ad from UNhate Campaign

With these eye-catching images, it was expected that the campaign would turn to viral really fast. I started monitoring “UNhate” online impact since I first saw it early morning today. Up until now (16 hours so far), Number of Facebook “Likes” of the campaign increased from 10K to 15K; the Benetton site ranking went up considerably; campaign film also attracted hits more than 330,000 within 3 days on youtube.

Increase of Benetton Website Ranking (mainly based on traffic, From

Youtube Hits of UNhate Film

It’s too early yet to tell if the campaign has realized the expected impact in terms of audience reach (here not mention the quality of publicities yet), but I will keep you updated.

What might be the underlying reasons for Benetton doing this campaign?

Claimed by Alessandro Benetton, the leader of Benetton company, that the purpose of this campaign was to “reaffirm the value of the brand” and connect the past to the future. To some extent, the proposition was relevant with what Benetton’s previous brand image and promise. But it attracted lots of speculation because Benetton did not perform as good as the competitors as Zara or H&M in financial terms. So there is a high probability the campaign was designed to catch short-term market attention and regain the lost-ground.

How the message was communicated?  

First of all, Benetton used the integrated marketing communication concept to ensure the exposure to target audience. Secondly, it tried online and offline integration to enhance the communication engagement. Thirdly, the campaign leveraged various social media tools and user generated content to enrich the interactivity.

User Generated Content from UNhate Campaign

Social media is like a natural fit for Benetton’s style of message: controversy leading to mixed responses. Now Benetton finally comes to play around the social media with its beautifully crafted campaign content. One thing is for sure: social media will accelerate the diffusion of the message and deepen the latitude of reach. But whether social media impacts the campaign more in a positive way or the other direction is still not clear.

UNhate campaign leverages social media

Meanwhile, a few issues have already emerged: tremendous opposition from the public as a result Pope’s picture was forced to delete. Even White House protested the inappropriateness of the images. Benetton is also likely to receive potential complaints from North Korea or China where the political leaders are highly respected.

The primary consideration for Benetton now is probably, the more controversial the campaign becomes, the better attention brand attracts. Controversy might be one of the characters of the brand. But how likely is the short-term attention will last and how this will help to recapture consumer attention? and how this action will favourably drive financial performance?

Probably Benetton needs to fine-tune its product and design first.  At the end of day, “go viral” doesn’t mean anything if your product is not competitive in physical terms. Or it still doesn’t make sense if the propaganda is not relevant to what you sell.  A common pitfall in this digital world now is that we sometimes care too much about the “silver bullets” instead of some unchanged marketing rules.

Rethink Branding

As a brand manager for 3 years and having the passion for brand management since almost 10 years ago, I always reconsider how brand works in reality and how meaningful and influential to build a strong brand.

It seems as a silly question: is brand useful? Those theories and frameworks that Aaker, Keller and Kolter have perfectly crafted DO make sense. But what I see is the basic principles should be always updated and revised because of the changes in marketing and the shifts in digital life.

What I meant by “changes in marketing” is the evolution and particularly the saturation of marketing information and the repetition of marketing practices. Essentially, my question is how effective if you use the same strategies years after years. Consumers are learning and they become immune to marketing bombards. Further, they probably will be annoyed by most commercials or direct selling information today. Marketing information overload taught ordinary people to avoid what marketers want to say. In the meantime, many marketing tactics we have learned are becoming POPs, making consumers tired to listen.

Brand still works. The important factor we need to address here is how you build excellent “brand experience” or core offerings. So brand is not only about marketing communications or creative ads, it’s more about the integrative whole of tangible and intangibles benefits to customers. Every contact points between the consumers and products/services are components of brand experience. Very often today, mere “branding” effort would only broadcast bad publicities if your brand experience is not right at the first place. In contrast, if you offer compelling brand experience, advocacy may make brands shine.

To get this rethinking of branding going, I am curious about how different building a brand is in the digital world. Edelman offers a really good approach to this. From a decision funnel perspective, many companies spend money at the wrong “contact points”, for example, consumers now are more influenced by advocacy or reviews from their peers. An neglect on these channels may lead to a failure to influence purchase decisions. Instead of a funnel, the consumer decision marking process is more like an iterative circle consists of “consider”, “evaluate”, “buy”, “enjoy”, “advocate” and “bond”. This is called the “Consumer Decision Journey”. What Edelman suggests is companies should focus on the stages or contact points which become more relevant today–e.g. advocate and bond.

I am glad that these two articles give me great motivations to rethink branding in the Internet age. To me, “brand” is always useful in marketing, the core has not changed, it just the way to achieve this changed.

Inspired by: [1] James G. (2011) “Why the ‘Power of Branding” Is a Myth”  [2] Edelman. D (2010) “Branding in the Digital Age: You’re Spending Your Money in All the Wrong Places” Havard Business Review


Some Thoughts on Social Media ROI

As social media becomes more popular, the central question emerges: how you measure the ROI on what you spend?

Indeed, social media makes tracking and quantitative measurement easier than in traditional media setting. But an emphasis on ROI may mislead social media strategy. Reasons are two-fold: 1) It’s true any business decisions should be inevitably justified through a ROI perspective, but this neglects the fact that “brand awareness, engagement and word-of-mouth”[1] are the mediators for excellent financial performance. An over-riding ROI standard impinges the cultivation on these brand equity elements, where social media has an edge compared with traditional media. 2) social media itself is in its infancy in terms of its role in marketing or business. A mere ROI perspective may overlook social media potential in long term strategy. For example, a ROI measurement might kill a social media campaign that fosters great brand engagement but little direct sale increase.

The CEO of DDBO New York, Andrew [2] shows some interesting research results that actually try to quantify the value of a Facebook fan, which ranges from $3.60 to $136 annually from different research companies. What conclusion he then draws is how valuable these figures are?–which dimensions of brand equity were these monetary results gauged against? Was the link between the value and sales clear? was the value always positive? DDBO’s research showed the relationship between quality (social media relationship between company and consumer) and brand performance is much more positively related than quantity of these relationships.

Above-mentioned views are coincidentally converge on the incompleteness and misleadingness a ROI approach for social media practices. It is important that we realize social media is a totally different animal, we should not put financial returns as primary focus, rather, we should invest in its potential in building strong customer relationship and creating unparalleled brand experience.

Inspired by and also referred to the following articles: [1] Hoffman D.L. and Fodor M. (2010) “Can you measure ROI of your social media marketing?”, MIT Sloan Management Review, Vol 52, No.1, 2010 Fall  [2] Robertson A. (2010) “For Brands on Facebook, Fan Quality Trumps Quantity”

Enhanced Brand Experience–Linking Offline and Online Promotions

I read the article “How Technology is Closing the Loop on Brand Experience” yesterday and was amazed by how companies successfully connected online activities with offline ones, creating more memorable and unique brand experience.

Original Commercial of "Angel Falling"

"Angel Falling" London Victoria Station

This article summarized some great applications of this notion: first example was the“Lynx Angel Falling Campaign”. The original TV commercial (Video) featuring “falling angels” (beautiful angels actually fall from sky for the ordinary guy using Lynx spray) was followed by the offline interactive activities (Video) in London, Melbourne and other cities. Those activities took place in big public arenas like train station or city square, where had big TV screens. People were exhilarated to see and interact with the animated angels (the same character from the original TV commercial) controlled by a computer technician hidden in the crowd. The surprise and excitement left vivid impression in audience’s mind.

The second example was Asics’s sponsorship to New York Marathon 2010. Asics started “Support Your Marathoner” campaign (video), which invited marathoners’ families and friends to record and send supporting videos/pictures. On the race day, the videos/pictures were broadcasted on the big screen once the contestants’ RPID tags were identified at certain points in the track.

The similar integration of online and offline promotions is a trend now. Two particular insights inspired by this article are: 1) the integration is an effective way to make your communication message unique and strong. Consider the Lynx example, the follow-up offline activities not only lead to additional attention for the original commercials, but also enrich the emotion that evoked by the overall brand communication experience. I believe both the scope and quality of the marketing communication was improved; 2) the creative integration enabled by latest technology is not the end of the job. Although the Asics campaign was beautifully designed and executed, the management team seemed to neglect two things: one is the actual exposure of Asics brand image in the co-branding campaign with New York Marathon, the other is how to amplify the initial publicities generated through the campaign and turn it into something with further impact.

Many companies are confused about how to utilize new technology to make their brand image special. But what I often see is the commoditization of traditional communication practices or low-involvement/no-focus E-promotions. Meanwhile, consumers are avoiding marketing messages and taking more control of communication. This article therefore is a great inspiration in this perspective, providing something companies can start experimenting in order to get an edge in brand building.

Book Review– “Do It Wrong Quickly”

Mike Moran’s “Do it wrong quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules” is truly a guide for starting E-marketing. The main idea of this book is that the Internet brings significant changes to the marketing environment and there is no “rule-of-thumb”. Rather than speculating when and how the changes will affect your companies, marketers should begin experiments based on the techniques and tools introduced in this book. The principle of “Do it wrong quickly” and “improve-it-immediately” is highly appropriate in the marketing context that the Internet has defined.

As a previous marketing practitioner, I have found that the pragmatic approach to E-marketing offered by Mike echoed my own experience: changes are more rapid and you cannot afford doing nothing. You should embrace these changes and re-learn your customers within the new E-marketing setting and make the most use of the features of the Internet. As a business graduate student, I have also learned how to listen, talk and engage with the customers and how to plant the E-marketing concepts in companies, which is highly useful in my future career.

The book is an easy and interesting read. Part 1 discusses that how the Internet or digital technology in general has shifted marketing. Specifically as I learned from the E-marketing class, customers are more empowered and companies are no longer having full control of the marketing messages. This means that some marketing tools expire but in the meantime some basic principles hold true and other new opportunities also arise. Part 2 focuses the actual way to “do it wrong quickly”: starting with studying online consumer behavior, you could utilize various concrete tools introduced in the book to create unique and compelling marketing experience. With the width and depth of data you can collect, you would be able to adjust your marketing initiatives almost simultaneously when you start something new. The “action-feedback-action” close loop will facilitate you to “do-it-wrong-quickly”. Part 3 is where the book taps into the empirical field and offers practical methods to make the E-marketing thinking happen in many traditional marketing-orientated companies.

Here are some detailed takeaways from this book except for those high-level insights discussed earlier:

First, the Internet age has changed the marketer and customer relationship. To me, it is one of the by-products that democracy brought by internet to various facets of life: no individual or a group of individuals/organizations are monopoly of information. People have accessible means to publish and share information. Customers in general are more selective to marketing information or become resistant to irrelevant marketing messages. Similar to the in-bound marketing concept, marketers should actively learn the customers and engage them in the messages, which are naturally attractive to the audience. Hard-sell or massive marketing communication are not extinct, but they are becoming less effective.

Second, certain key principles in marketing remain unchanged. Here let’s use a broad marketing definition which involves finding, delivering and meeting customer wants. Under this assumption, the “Product” still should be excellent in E-marketing. No matter how fancy your website or how attractive you viral video is, the crappy product is never going to sell. Similarly, “Price” also needs to be competitive. Very importantly, a distinctive and powerful brand positioning is crucial to be successful even in the current e-world. Here is an argument that I do not totally agree with Mike’s conclusion that brand loyalty is not as useful as in the pre-internet time. Brand or product relevance, instead, is more prominent. Just consider the amazon case, brand name still a big thing although its competitors like Barnes and Noble may offer similar products and services, customer may well loyal to the trust that the Amazon name implies, reluctant to shop with competitor websites.

Third, a “trial-and-error” approach is particularly meaningful in the E-marketing environment. On one hand, think about how rapid are the changes of consumer behavior as a result of the Internet, any companies that ignore the trend will be left out pretty soon. People search product alternatives from the Internet, consult reviews from others, customize and finalize the purchases on-line and they feedback the experience than it influences others. A simple marketing message without purposeful design, attractive content and specific relevance, will be certainly bypassed or avoided anyway. Any complaints and dissatisfaction will eventually find a way to get back to you. On the other hand, the E-marketing environment permits easier experiments that allow you to “do it wrong” and turn it around without huge costs. As an example, Amazon can test different webpage designs easily with accurate click tracking.

Although this book is a practical reference of E-marketing, it could be more thorough if it had elaborated more on how small or medium businesses should take the advantage of the advent of web 2.0 and the prevalence of social media. Personally I think many small companies are disappointed because at first they thought that the Internet offered an affordable tool to compete head-to-head with those giants, but what they later realize was that they could not make more impact except for the Facebook page and some email newsletters. Another area that the book might need to discuss more is how to define those initiatives that could “do-it-wrong-quickly”.  I do not oppose to the idea of “do-it-wrong-quickly” and in fact I think it makes more sense in the digital era than 20 years ago. But the question is whether we can fail indiscriminatively on any marketing projects. For example, some marketing efforts are profound in terms of brand goodwill and social responsibility and cannot be “done-it-wrong-quickly” and improve later. I think Mike needs to provide some frameworks or criteria to draw the line within which the activities could be tested and evolved.