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Know Your Audience

7 Nov

Knowing your audience is a fine art. This is my favorite quote from Ron Alsop’s book The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation, one that concisely sums up the spirit of being keenly aware of your audience, and their influencers:

“The stakeholder pyramid isn’t a static structure.”

What this means is that we’ve got to be constantly on top of the groups that are interpreting our image in the public space. They may or may not be customers. A good example Alsop provides is the Calvin Klein ads, noteworthy for those of us who first wore designer jeans in the 1980s. Although I looked nothing like Brooke Shields, I did love my Calvins. For the record, I had ONE pair. Lots of others loved their Calvins. They sent a message of youthful je ne sais quoi and corset-like zipped-upness.

imagesThe Calvin Klein ad campaign grew and developed into involvement of younger and younger models, which raised eyebrows for some. In the 90s, Klein’s underwear campaign became infamous for the heroin chic look of models like Kate Moss, known by her gaunt face and bag-of-bones body. At this point, the fashion popularity of Klein was very high, but his reputation began to suffer because of what older people—not his demographic—thought of the ad campaign.

For a long time, it was okay to push the envelope, with ads that were more and more risque, but that only has so much staying power. People pay attention, and they don’t put up having their intelligence be insulted.

The same type of phenomenon happened to Victoria’s Secret. When the company began, their brand promise went something like this: We make lingerie for real women, who are somewhat modest and have zero interest in tacky feather-laden teddies from Frederick’s of Hollywood. We will properly fit you for a brassiere that is uniquely for you, and will last for five years. But a couple of years ago, VS was selling Fredericks-esque teddies and trying to convince me that I needed to throw away perfectly good a year-old class of bras to buy Tyra Banks’ or Heidi Klum’s favorite because it was “just better bra technology.” Yeah, my foot.

What happened? How did they stray so far from their brand promise? VS did have very good success with its Pink line, for younger women, but they may have lost the market that has more money to spend: Women who are “of a certain age.”

Women who have daughters that are old enough to wear nice underwear…and want their daughters to buy nice underwear from a reputable, above-board shop. Yes, To Know Better is in that category, too. VS ended up with a tricky consumer with my demographic. I’m buying bras and panties from them, and my daughter is on the cusp of it. As a result, I am a proponent of VS keeping it clean. It’s only been recently that I have given VS another look, and it’s because they have started to get back to their brand promise. And I’ve wanted my daughter to have a better first bra-buying experience than my own, which involved my grandmother’s sudden bright idea of strapping on a training bra over top of my clothes in the middle of the Hart’s Department Store. For a 12-year-old girl, this was not a welcome experience.

So this is a good case in point for how much public perception matters. Even if Calvin Klein was not a proponent of heroin chic, or underage sex or people having to lay down on their beds to zip up their jeans, SOME people—influential people—in the investment community did believe so. And for Victoria’s Secret, their bread and butter consumer (yes, To Know Better and her friends) was not to be messed with.

Women with buying power are a force not to be manipulated. We stop spending when we get peeved. And even if a stakeholder group is not spending—like the investors that influenced Klein to get back on track with the basics—it is wise to monitor reputation with all key image-perceivers.

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Brands and Creating Emotional Appeal

6 Jan

Brands that elicit emotion attract devotion—and loyal followers.

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Image from U.S. National Library of Medicine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sophisticated measurements—even MRI’s as described by Martin Lindstrom in Buyology—can track individual emotional reactions and the brain’s response to the appeals of marketing. Neuromarketing is all the rage now thanks to self-described brand futurist Lindstrom, and the revelations from his $7 million study are fascinating on the surface. It sounds as if many of our decisions that were thought to be driven by, well, thought, for such a long time, are in fact driven by instinct, deeply embedded and hard-wired into our nervous systems. I am looking forward to reading more about it and learning how I can shut off that part of my brain that likes Boden so much. Something resident in my reptilian brain no doubt.

Ethnographic studies follow or record consumer interaction with brands. I remember one study that monitored women’s processes of getting ready (“faire sa toilette” in French…sounds more glamorous) in the morning. They discovered that many women actually climb on top of their sinks so they can best see their faces for tweezing activity and makeup application. Imagine how this changed expectations around makeup packaging and accessories.

But describing and quantifying emotional connection to brands is different than feeling the connection. What’s the sensory experience of holding the sleek, rounded casing of the iPhone and flicking between album covers to choose a new playlist? The “ahhhhh” relaxation of sinking one’s head into a Tempurpedic pillow (or mattress, for the lucky few) at the end of the day? The feeling of unwrapping a Lindor dark chocolate truffle and eating it whole before it melts. Or hearing the crushed paper in metal wastebasket, slam-dunk sound of an old document being moved from the desktop to the trashcan on your Mac? (SFX: Resolute crrrrrrunch.)

Lovemarks, coined by Saatchi and Saatchi, describe the beyond-brand nirvana of sensory connection to products. Lovemarks are in the upper-right corner of the quadrants formed by the love and respect continuums, squarely defined by high love/high respect. I like the concept of lovemarks because it incorporates appreciation for the sensory experience of brands—and the feelings brought about by brand interaction.

One brand that’s leveraging the lovemark and Alsop’s seventh law is Ohio: The State of Perfect Balance. This is Ohio’s brand, now on driver’s licenses and being implemented across all areas of state government. From the economic development perspective the concept behind this brand is that business leaders can build their business AND love their life—something that’s clearly not possible on the coasts and in areas that require large commitments of time for commute. Place branding has the power to draw more people to Ohio through emotional connections.

Take a minute to think about the brands that evoke reactions for you that don’t involve thoughtful analysis. Comfort. Inspiration. Hope. Love. Protection. Relaxation.

What gut-level reactions do you associate with different brands? When you consider how persuasive emotion can be, I wouldn’t be surprised if you came up with a unique list.

Managing Crises with Finesse

4 Jan
A crisis may feel like this, but remember that everything has a beginning, a middle and an ending.

A crisis may feel like this, but remember that everything has a beginning, a middle and an ending.

The words “crisis” and “finesse” do not belong together, but reputation-master Ronald Alsop combines them anyway. A crisis can be a defining moment for a company: Successful crisis management can separate a company from the pack—in a good or a not so good way.

You cannot prevent crisis, but you can keep it from spinning out of control. No plan is bullet-proof, but get as close as you can. Here are some important components that Alsop and others identify for bullet-resistant crisis management:

  1. Create a crisis team comprised of a balanced set of expertise. It should include representation from PR, legal and IT, in addition to line function representation. Everyone on the team should be quick-thinking and accurate to a fault. The leader should be the President or CEO, and the spokesperson should be a cool-headed and seasoned (not too much seasoning) member of the PR team.
  2. Define possible crisis scenarios. These can be grouped into various categories, such as natural disasters, human error (e.g., employee misconduct, corporate ethics issues) and product or service flaws. In order to best define these, work with your line managers. Ask them what they worry the most about—what keeps them up at night. Also make sure to list any crises that have been faced by your competitors, because it is likely that you could face the same issues at some point in time.
  3. Prioritize crisis management based upon probability of occurrence and level of risk to the company’s reputation  if the crisis should come to pass. You can set up a grid and work through each scenario based upon the combination of these two factors.
  4. Map out a plan of response for each scenario. High probability/high reputation damage risk  scenarios should be explored first because a crisis management approach is most crucial in these cases.
  5. Set up a crisis command center. The command center should be a “war room” where the team can convene and extend its tentacles as needed to take action.
  6. Create a crisis reference book. This should include all relevant contact information, protocols given various scenarios, templated releases for categories of crisis (natural disaster, human error such as corporate misconduct and product issues), and flow charts stepping through key steps in the reaction process.
  7. Put your staff through their paces with crisis simulations. The crisis team, and other staff, should routinely be exposed to mock crisis scenarios to test response time and accuracy. These can be announced or unannounced by management. Fire drills are a good test of your company’s crisis smarts.

Social Media Policies: Guidelines or Rules?

17 Sep

Here’s an increasingly common question from clients:

I want to implement social media, but I’m afraid that my staff will take advantage of the freedom. What social media policies can we institute to shape use by our employees?

It’s a good question. Businesses are catching on to the practical necessity of social media for customer interaction and reputation-building. But it’s unwise to jump into the fray before preparing in advance.

Having a clear communications plan in place is the first step. Warning: If your plan involves only social media, do NOT activate. Social media is only one channel for communication. Comparisons with walkie talkies and telephones are apt. Just knowing how to use a walkie talkie or telephone doesn’t mean that you know how to WISELY communicate with it. It all depends on what you say, not whether you know how to pick it up and talk through it. Take Gap’s new Born to Fit campaign. They are leveraging social media—heavily—but only as one among many tactics within the media mix, that includes billboards and other examples of “old-school” ads. No television, though. Interesting.

Now back to the policies. The situation reminds me of a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Elizabeth Swann is trying to outsmart the Captain, and he reminds her of the flexibility around the pirate’s code:

Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann pretending to be Elizabeth Turner): … wait, you have to take me to shore, according to the code of the Order of the Brethren …
Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa): … first, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement, so it must do nothing, and secondly you must be a pirate for the Pirate’s Code to apply and you’re not, and thirdly the code is more of what you call guidelines than actual rules, welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner …

The same will be true of social media policies. The landscape is so dynamic that you cannot account for everything that could possibly happen. And not everyone will follow them, but without them you are rudderless.

Now back to the policies. Here are some common themes drawn from various social media guidelines:

  1. Use good judgment. Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t say in person.
  2. Be yourself. Never be anonymous.
  3. Preserve confidentiality and intellectual property. Don’t disclose client or proprietary information.
  4. Own your own content. Take responsibility for what you post.
  5. Disclose your blogging to your supervisor. And put a disclaimer on your blog clarifying where you work and that the opinions and views you express are not necessarily those of your employer.
  6. Link back to your corporate culture guidelines. These should shape your social media practices.
  7. Use social media at work, because the process of communicating through social media is so often now a part of our work. But don’t let social media use keep you from getting other parts of your job done. Stay productive.
  8. Follow the ethics code of your given profession. Respect copyright and fair use. Do not risk defamation.
  9. Be a courteous social media community member. Pay heed to mutuality, authenticity and timeliness. These concepts have special meaning in the social mediasphere.
  10. Clarify the place of social media within your overall business goals and communication plan. It should not stand alone.

Now go forth and post!

The Power of Place

31 Aug

IMG_0583Spatial memory is a powerful thing. It brings hummingbirds back to Ohio every year from the Caribbean, and it evokes emotional memories for us humans.

What is it that makes places so deeply etched in our minds and hearts? My thought is that it’s because of the sensory experience. Unlike an object, which could be remembered for its static qualities, a place is full of three-dimensional and dynamic sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes.

This is why we return home and feel comfort at the end of a long day. Memory evokes the senses that yearn for the smell of the fireplace in the living room, the velvet upholstery of the favorite armchair, dinner cooking in the kitchen and clean sheets on the bed at night. Places like home, a friend’s house or a spiritual setting like a church, mosque or synagogue elicit emotions that feel good and keep us coming back.

Why do so many visit New York City every year, for the first time?  The reason is place anticipation—spatial memory in reverse. The many attributes of “The City” are known far and wide: opinionated and metropolitan people, high-end boutiques, the best plays and live music, museums, Central Park, street vendors, five-star restaurants. These are the many facets of New York City’s place brand, and everyone knows them. Reading about them or seeing them on television is not enough. The value is in BEING there, experiencing the brand of New York City—close up and in person.

Place branding fuses economic development practice with the strategies and tactics of branding. The goal is to create anticipation for locations that are less well-known—or places that are perceived inaccurately. More cities, states and nations are investing in a place-branding strategy to incentivize capital investment and expansion in their locale. Dubai, Wales and Queensland are prime examples—even my own Ohio. The key in place branding is to focus on the overall economic development strategy and leverage marketing and communications to deliver on their promise.

I am particularly interested in the experiential aspects communicated virtually through place branding. It’s tough to get at all of the senses when separated by distance. Words and pictures can help to tell the story, but two-dimensional impact is not as powerful as being there in person. This interview conducted by CEO Ed Burghard of the Burghard Group with Robert Govers—an expert in place branding, image and tourism—explores the possibilities. In particular, question and answer number 5 address the concept that place branding’s product development is all about managing the experience, in person and online.

As we become more of a global economy and can leverage technology to activate our senses in anticipating place, I wonder how our impressions of places will change as we are exposed to more information about places we thought we knew. Will the so-called “hot-spots” for young talent, families and couples change—both in terms of vacation sites and places to call home? I’m guessing that there are places still off the map in the minds of developers and travelers alike—not because they’re uncharted but because they’ve been overlooked or under-appreciated.

Snake Oil in the Social Mediasphere

13 Jul

imagesSo many self-proclaimed social media gurus are full of it. They confuse quantity with quality, and juvenile behavior with “authenticity.” Use of social media does not equal expertise in leveraging the medium for business purposes.

These days, there’s a fair dose of snake oil being peddled by people seeking to make a profit. Business advisors encouraging companies to hire a  “social media expert” lead to further confusion, setting aside real strategic decision-making for reactive jumping-on-the-bandwagon.

Just because someone’s using social media doesn’t make them a go-to for solving business problems. This is like saying that because a person can dial the telephone and talk with every friend in an afternoon that they are an expert in sales. It just doesn’t work that way.

Here are four recommendations for identifying a purveyor of social media snake oil:

  1. Take a look at their design aesthetic. Is the color palette of their blog reminiscent of the choices you would have made as a teenager? Just because you can make your blog header bright pink doesn’t mean that you should. Appearances do matter, and this is a signal that they are not playing to a business demographic. Taste is not something we’re all born with. Most of us develop it over time, through trial and error.
  2. Read their blog. Does it include self-promotional and narcissistic photos and a minimum of useful content, primarily focused on their drinking exploits? Is there a preponderance of lol, omg and cul8r? This is self-absorption that they’ll mature out of, but you probably don’t have time to observe the process of growing up. Let them interact with the newbies in the industry and pay their dues before they get credit for being a “guru.” Experience counts. Come back in 5-10 years.
  3. How much content do their tweets deliver? If they are mainly flirting with people or trash-talking with friends, this is another reason to filter them out. Sharing information is key on social media, but being mindful of what’s worth sharing is the “twetiquette” to live by. Some do not switch gears to DMs when a one-on-one conversation is started on Twitter, and that’s a shame. Knowing when to go off-line or on a private line is a judgment easy to make and honestly appreciated by the Twitterverse. A high frequency of  tweets does not get one access to the ranks of the Twitterati.
  4. Is their point of view “authentic” in a style that can be converted to play in a business setting? The beauty of social media is each individual’s ability to establish a uniquely authentic voice. Just as all voices are not welcome at the board table, not all social media voices are worth tuning into for business purposes. Being authentic in the business world probably does not include over-use of emoticons, IM abbreviations or stream-of-consciousness chatter. High-quality tweets consolidate big ideas, embedded in tiny urls and spartanly precise word choice. They are mini-headlines that when mined open new worlds for the reader.

Remember, there’s a “me” in social media, but it comes after the “social”–meaning that awareness of social standards is still good sense and good business.

On Manners

7 Jul
Good manners signage from Australia...applicable universally.

Good manners signage from Australia...applicable universally.

Manners are subjective. There are few remaining standards for proper behavior, as recently noted by The New York Times columnist David Brooks. One person’s rude neighbor is another’s best friend. My philosophy is basically live and let live, so I am fairly patient with people’s idiosyncrasies that could be misconstrued as bad behavior.

But one thing that gets my goat is people who are just plain rude. I had a very strict kindergarten teacher named Mrs. Hudson who had a panoply of characters posted above the blackboard. Rude Robert was the most gauche. Above all, in Mrs. Hudson’s class of 5-year-olds, it was bottom of the barrel to be Rude Robert.

Disrespect for the elderly is a pet peeve of mine. The other day en route to work I was coming down the stairs at the parking garage. A young professional-looking guy breezed past me in the stairwell and proceeded to nearly knock over an older woman lower down the flight. I felt badly for the woman he almost knocked over. Not just because she risked a tumble—this was a situation where the proper thing to do, out of respect for her age, was just slow the heck down and politely let her lead the way to the foot of the stairs. Zoom past her then, by all means, but just let her get down the stairs with her dignity intact.

Another example: Being snubbed. When in public settings, it is not necessary to flap one’s arms and flag down acquaintances from across the room. But some sign of recognition, a simple nod in shared acknowledgment of coexistence and common experience, is appropriate and a sign of mutual respect. Long conversation is not required, but no one wants to be blatantly ignored. Just bad form.

One more: littering. Throwing trash out the window of one’s car is just wrong. I remember in the 70s when we kids were encouraged to call people “litterbugs” for not respecting the environment. One time when on the ski lift with my daughter, we boarded behind two fun-loving 20-ish women. They cleaned out the pockets of their parkas and tossed candy wrappers, beer cans and kleenex underneath the lift. At times like this, my inner vigilante comes out. First, do not litter. And second, don’t set a bad example for kids. On the way down the hill, I speared their trash on my ski pole. It was easy to see, because there was NO OTHER TRASH on the hill, since POLITE PEOPLE know not to litter. When my daughter and I arrived back in line for the lift, lo and behold, there were the young ladies. I told them they left something on the hill. They said, “No, we didn’t,” and I said, “Oh YES you did.” There were lots of other people in line, and it is not pleasant to be held publicly accountable for something you didn’t think anyone saw you do. Oops.

And finally…stealing. Again, some people think that this is okay if no one sees them doing it. I don’t think so. Once while at church, I was in the cry room with my toddler (a few years ago!) and saw a man steal a bike from the rack in front of the church. Again, vigilante action. I told a friend to watch my kid and ran out of the church, knowing that no one else saw this happen. I chased the man across the street shouting, “Thief!” Public embarrassment, again, ruled the day. He dropped the bike and ran off to find another something to steal.

Bad manners make us less complete as humans, in relationship to ourselves and others. It’s not a matter of looking or acting properly—it has to do with treating humanity, even oneself, with dignity.