Enlightened Conflict

heritage brands should not concede ground to clean slate brands

July 30th, 2014

head ache rub

 

—–

“There’s no bigger sucker than a gullible marketer convinced he’s missing a trend.”

Bob Hoffman

——-

 

Ok.

 

 

I will admit.

 

This topic makes my head hurt. When older established brands & companies decide to concede everything they have earned up to this point to “re-invent” themselves with the intent to become ‘relevant again.’

 

To be clear on what I am talking about ….

 

 

Heritage brands.

 

 

These are products and services that have been with us for a while. They may not have grey at the temples but suffice it to say they have some history.

 

 

heritage clean clean mind

Clean slate brands.

 

Just born. Being shaped day by day <and oddly many are being initially offered to people in the market with as much ‘heritage’ type credibility crammed into it as possible with the objective of gaining some credibility that you can only shake your head>.

 

 

Before I begin on the main topic <heritage brands should embrace their heritage and quit trying to be like the young whipper snappers> I will point out that there is a very odd relationship between heritage and new <or clean slate>.

 

 

The new fresh ‘unique’ <don’t they all seem to come out from day one suggesting that no one has ever seen the likes of what they offer?> inevitably are doing one of two things:

 

 

–           Injecting a core ‘history’ piece into their gestalt.

Kind of like a ‘here is one component or thing which you know and love’ just so you know it will not ….

 

o <a> fall apart

 

o <b> not work with anything else you may already own

 

o <c> be credible in some form or fashion

 

 

–            Leveraging from some ‘history.’

Kind of like ‘I know my shit because I did this and worked here but now I have seen the light and …’

 

 

 

On the other hand.

 

age is no importance

Heritage brands are constantly trying to inject some false youth into their brand with the intent to suggest they are not … well … old.

 

 

 

Unfortunately the years suggest otherwise.

 

Fortunately they are just years.

 

 

 

Old, or age, at least with a brand … is about attitude & in the mind. Or at least it can be.

 

 

An old product is certainly just an old product.

 

But a constantly fine tuned contemporary old product is not old … just from an older wiser company.
Well.

 

 

I began there because I think heritage brands should take a page out of that clean slate playbook.

 

Far too many of the older brands are simply conceding … throwing out what they have as old <unsalvageable> … and trying to use their operational marketing savvy to reenter the market as a ‘clean slate’ brand.

 

Silly. Maybe even absurd thinking.

 

Ok.

Seriously.

 

Here are a couple issues with attempting this:

 —-

–           their savvy is savvy … but most likely savviness on & from a wide array of existing attributes & attitudes & perceptions. This savviness is very very different than trying to create something from scratch

—-

–           old dogs are very hesitant to learn new tricks <’nuff said on this>.

===

With that said.

 

 

While difficult to reimage or reenergize a heritage brand … conceding to a clean slate brand is wrong, silly and impractical.

 

 

I say this all the while watching what seems to be a massive shift in power taking place in the business world.

 

 

There is a whole new onslaught of new brands creating their own rules trying to attract people <buyers> to their unproven and unknown brands the way they were attracted to established brands in the past.

 

 

In fact it almost seems like ‘established’ is a swear word if not just another word for ‘tired & old’ if not tainted.

 

 

But the future should not, and does not, belong to these clean slate brands.

 

 

Regardless.
And to kick their ass you have to embrace the concept of re-imaging <not reinventing>.

 

And reimaging or revitalizing companies and brands really centers on the tried & true marketing and business objective – ‘finding relevance.’
heritage old ideas

The relevance in this case is about resurrecting dormant attributes in an existing company/brand that still have some appeal <just need to be dusted off and shined up a bit> and resurrecting things that are dormant in the collective consumer conscience.

 

 

Some people may call what I am discussing as re-imaging <I know I have in the past>.

 

And re-imaging is an appropriate term because reimaging is NOT about re-inventing an organization but rather assembling characteristics or attributes and then repackaging them, or highlighting something, to make people look at the organization <or brand> in a different way.

 

The simple truth is that successful re-imaging typically resides in the past.

 

Gathering up characteristics that made that company successful in the past and simply reminding the internal company and the external constituents all the reasons why that organization was “liked” in the first place.

 

 

 

Another truth is that sometimes re-imaging is simply a process of “clarity”, i.e., insuring that people clearly understand what the organization does, believes and stands for.

 

 

This may seem simplistic or irrelevant but I often find, particularly with B2B focused, organizations focus so much on customer service and features & benefits to differentiate themselves they have lost sight of the value of a higher order positioning in creating value and distinctness.

 

 

Now.

 

Here is the hard part to wrap your head around <to many business people today>.

heritage aging strength

 

This ends up being about believing that success often resides somewhere in the past.
<insert a loud DOH! Here>

 

 

 

This is all about something old and something new <and being relevant in the marketplace>.

 

Think about it.

 

 

Sales are flagging and I am an old brand/company and how do I look new?!?

 

 

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Sound familiar?

 

 

Most of the time it because the brand has simply lost relevance in consumers’ minds <it has nothing to do with being cool or uncool>.

 

But they can be re-imaged <and not concede to a clean slate approach>.

 

 

I do have some examples.

 

Maybe the best example I can think of is Adidas in the United States.

 

 

Huge popular brand in US years ago.

 

Dropped off the face of the earth in the American consciousness <especially as Nike and Reebok stepped up>.

 

Then someone stepped in and made them relevant again <part old school positioning and part ‘new relevant’ status>.

 

Smart.

 

vw zen

VW?

 

Did the same.
And maybe the second best example.
IBM.

 

Whew.

 

 

Someone really stepped up to the plate on this one. Someone fought the battle that “big blue ain’t that bad that we should throw it under the bus” <and I bet that was a tough discussion> and then threw in some nice human characteristics <some tongue in cheek relevant humor> and all of a sudden IBM <which had one foot in the grave perceptionwise> became relevant all over again.

 

They didn’t throw away all their old characteristics <in fact they kind of suggested that an aspect of their oldness was good> and simply started adding on relevant “todaylike” characteristics.

 

 

But please note.

 

The list of failed ‘re-imaging’ initiatives is extensive.
Resurrecting, or renovating, a brand to revitalize it in the marketplace and make it relevant again is a tricky path.

 

 

It isn’t easy.

 

Because it is just easy to look old.

 

 

Or worse … look old trying to be cool <think the middle aged crisis guy who is almost laughably sad to look at>.

 

I am not sure if business people are lazy, scared or simply dazzled by the newest shiniest object.

 

 

I do know for sure that I often find that people spend so much time trying to find something ‘new and revolutionary’ and they overlook something older that just needs to be pulled off the shelf and shined up a bit.

 

how we survive makes us

Whatever the reason for the brand fading away or disappearing or losing its relevance <blame mergers, globalization, mismanagement, stagnant thinking, poor strategic repositioning, or whatever> not conceding to clean slate brands should be the main path forward <or at least the first path considered>.

 

 

Why?

 

 

Imagine the gazillions you could save by not having to create instant name recognition amongst tens of millions of skeptical twenty, thirty or forty-somethings.

 

Imagine not having to play an entire season of ‘away games’ where you are constantly walking onto their field with their rules.

 

 

 

So.
In the end re-imaging doesn’t mean new perceptions cannot be ‘attached’ to existing attributes it simply means that it is:

 

 —–

(1)           Easier if the desired image/identity is leveraged from something existing (think heritage again), and

—–

 
(2)          More believable to internal & external audiences if as many existing perceptions/attitudes are utilized as possible (so old is good here too).

 

—–

 

And to be clear.

 

It takes a disciplined process <or let’s say it helps a lot> which effectively recognizes and identifies dormant-like meaningful characteristics.

 

 

And it also takes people who are in tune to uncovering insights using the ‘resurrected’ factoid findings <because many people just focus on the new shiny objects>.

 

 

And, lastly, success is dependent upon knowing how to use those insights to make the brand relevant and increase sales.
Candidly …. not everyone in business has or can do all three of these things I just outlined.
This whole thought process, and practical process, is not really that easy <or maybe better said it is easy to do this badly>.

 

Not many can meet the challenge to resurrect something old with reverence and apply it with relevance.
Anyway.

 

 

Three thoughts to end this article.

 

heritage shared
1.             People often forget that success often resides somewhere in your past <if you look hard enough>.

 

 

It is all about pushing off from some past strength and leaping forward in a relevant way.

Anyone who doesn’t want to looks backwards at all <the infamous “that information is dated” comment> will not understand or benefit from this approach.

 

 

I believe companies with some heritage and strong values provide a strong platform for success.

Some people consider being old as having baggage, I do not; I believe that represents a competitive advantage.

 

 

2.            I love reimaging.
I love this strategic approach.

 

It’s like putting a puzzle together using a lot of existing pieces but at the end having it look slightly different than it did when it was put together previously. It is simply showing people what was already there but helping them look at it differently. Plus (frankly). It is always easier to edit then create.

 

Reimaging is all about identifying meaningful distinctive existing characteristics & attributes with the intent to develop a relevant positioning which creates a desirable image to some specific target audience.

 

 

 

3.             Wisdom.

 

While I could go on and on about re-imaging brands, revitalizing brands and re energizing them <an invariably having to re energize the organization offering heritage mix old newit> it really comes down to one thing.

 

 

Selling wisdom.

 

 

If you concede the wisdom ground as a heritage brand you will lose.

 

 

Well.

 

Maybe you are just lost.

 

 

 

So.

 

If you are a heritage brand … do NOT concede ground to clean slate brands.
Do not play their game.

 

And if you do it right?
It’s fun <from a business perspective>.

 

 

It is REALLY fun.

 

 

Oh.

 

 

And it can create some amazing sales results.

growing a brand unevenly

July 24th, 2014

think you know

 ———–

“I am the sea and nobody owns me.”

Pippi Longstocking

———–

“In short, not only are things not what they seem, they are not even what they are called!”

Francisco de Quevedo

 

————-

 

 

Ok.

 

So I just wrote about growing up evenly <http://brucemctague.com/growing-up-unevenly >. And it made me think about the slightly absurd worldview of ‘building a brand.’

 

Absurd?

 

 

Yup.

 

First & foremost … because I don’t believe you can build a brand.

 

 

Well.

 

 

I imagine you can certainly try. But a building suggests a solid unmoving construct … kind of like maybe a shopping mall or a bank branch <oops … not particularly positive examples, huh?>.

 

 

And therein lies the underlying absurdity.

 

The construct. The unmoving unchanging body.

 

 

And a suggestion of ‘evenness.’

 

 

To be fair <before I begin my constructive enlightening rant> … the foundational aim for any brand has been and remains the same as always … to express singularities which consistently distinguish the offering of products and services.

 

 

And within these singularities … or distinctness … people will seek values, leadership, assurance, clarity … and personality <or character>. Maybe better said … some promise a person can attach some value <not values> to.

 

I say all that because you invariably need to grow your brand … well … unevenly. Yup. Sorry. A brand isn’t, probably shouldn’t be and most likely cannot be <and be successful> ‘even.’ Smooth. Without any ragged edges.

 

It needs to be grown unevenly <which is actually a natural growth rather than some manufactured growth>.

 

 

Uhm.

 

 

Just like a child.

 

You bring up the best kid you can. Build a strong character. Encourage them to embrace their potential. Put them in the best possible situations to succeed.

 

And, well, you let go of them and let them go into the world.

 

 

They’ll make their own friends <some you would not have chosen and some you would have> and they’ll do things that will make you want to tear your hair out over … and at other times they will make you beam with pride.

 

outcome control

But unless you are some control freak nutcase …  you are not by their side telling them what to do and how to dress and what to not do every minute of the day.
They assume a personality of their own doing what you hope is the right thing because you brought them up right.

 

This is just like growing a brand.

 

And if you do it right people will gladly welcome you into their circle of acquaintances <and sometimes friends> and give you the prime brain space every marketer is so desperate to get hold of.

 

 

All that said.

 
In theory, philosophically, a lot of marketing experts, or normal non expert people, will nod their heads when they read this and sigh <sagely of course> “that is so.”

 

 

 

Uhm.
But.

 
In practice?

 

 

In practice they will freak out over this idea.
Not control the brand?

 

Not build it so perfectly and then protect the perfection that is the brand <on paper at least>?

 

 

Bottom line.
They will freak.

 

 

And they will become maniacal brand control freaks.

 

 

They do so even though most marketing people know that a brand isn’t a package or a logo.
They recognize it is more like a living breathing personality.

 

 

But too often these same experts get trapped in the nice even edges found in a ‘brand symbol’ <think a logo or a package> and they want to try and control how the symbol connects to miscellaneous thoughts, emotions and information stored in the human brain.

 

uneven wonder

Unfortunately … since everyone’s brain is wired differently … we see and feel different things.

 

 

Someone may see a bottle of Coca-Cola and think of ‘the real thing’ and someone else may think ‘happiness’ and another may think empty calories <add in something else on this list>.

 

 

Look.

 

We’re not sure exactly how or where the human brain makes the connections that make branding possible.
We may never find out.

 

But one thing we know is the brain craves simplicity … uhm … and also complexity.

 

 

Uh oh.

 

Simplicity and complexity?

 

That sounds so … well … uneven.

 

 

Yup.
Therein lies the beauty & power of unevenness.

 

Regardless.
Before I get to the complex … let’s talk the simplicity part of the equation.

 

You do have to focus … and gain some simplicity in terms of a tight ‘core’ … from which the brand character resides on <some will call this the platform>.

 

 

There are some basics to get the ball rolling on the uneven path to growing a great brand:

 

———-

Whatever one may wish to call the experience, there are certain basic concepts to take into consideration:

Two fundamental elements:

straightforward presentation of the experience

honesty of thought, word and deed as regards the company

Three keynotes:

corporate conscience,

shared story-building

participatory and open co-creation processes

Four roots in reality:

Although many people may be involved in what is a completely open process, it is the company which creates the intent and is in control.

Even when a story is built, we must at all times remember that success is always enjoyed by those who are backed by great products and/or services.

It is about values and the consistency with which the promise made by the company is built.

Cristian Saracco

————

 

 

Please note the simplicity begins with the organization itself <whew … and when is that ever simple?>.

 

 

Beyond the actual product & service the organization has to be the natural <please note the word natural> origin for the products & services.
What do I mean?

 

 

Well.

 

 

The product or service has to ‘look right’ coming from the organization.
Maybe call it the ‘eye test’ <boy … that sounds non-technical and uncomplicated doesn’t it?>.

 

And getting this part of the brand right matters.

 

It matters because frankly … it needs to stand out <please note that I suggested the brand stand out … not the marketing or advertising>.

 

 

uncertainty 3This part of the brand needs to be distinct because in a complex sometimes overwhelming abundance of choices available to us 24/7 … some simpleness will stand out.

 

 

 

Well.

 

Maybe not simpleness … but the consistency of character <combined with function of course>.

 

<note: and maybe one of the issues in discussing brands and branding these days is that we confuse simplicity & consistency? … just a thought>
Look.

 

Consistency matters because the world has become more … well … less consistent.

 

In 1998 the average U.S. office worker received more than 160 messages a day via e-mail, fax, voice mail and conventional mail.

 

Today the number has almost quadrupled.

 

Enter a supermarket and you are most often faced with over 37,000 different products with distinct SKU’s <stock-keeping units> compared to 8,000 in 1970.

 

Orange juice choices have gone from 20 to 70 in the past 30 years. Coke 6 to 25. Even Philadelphia Cream Cheese has gone from 3 to 30.

 

 

Choices abound.

 

And some good choices I may add.

 

A company’s temptation may be to create even more brands to compete in this crazy world of choices.
On a side note about that last thought <about choices and ‘selections’>:

 

———

As we approached the 21st century, consumer and industrial suppliers acknowledged this overload. Unilever, a leading manufacturer of consumer health and beauty products, announced a 5-year plan to slash its brand portfolio from 1,600 to 100. A carefully orchestrated effort was put into place to ensure no loss of market share, while “helping” the consumer by eliminating so many choices. Unilever has been successful in its efforts. The program resulted in significantly lower costs in manufacturing, distribution and promotion . . . and ultimately, greater profitability.

———-

Anyway.
Growing a brand means it has to fulfill a clear promise. Promises are simple and complex. But suffice it to say, in this case, you make a promise and deliver upon it.
Simple as that.

 

 

Here are some basic steps simplify <or at least clarify> some things that make up the foundation blocks for growing the brand unevenly:

 

 ——

– company assessment

 

The first step in growing a brand is to assess the brand ‘parent.’ There are several methods for obtaining this information from the end-users but suffice it to say that if you don’t know your company <culture, belief system, aspirations> you will never rear your brand properly.

 

– research

 

Whether you think you need it … do some research.

Research will not only provide qualitative information from key stakeholders, including internal and external customers and influencers, but also flesh out the raw concept that resides in the vision.

 

The number of interviews <participants in research> will vary according to the typical number of end-users that would have an opinion about your company’s image.

 

The total number of potential end-users may be very small in b2b compared to a consumer product such as toothpaste.

 

Regardless.

 

You are seeking some consistent feedback … you hear the same feedback over and over.

 

The information collected from the survey is the foundation on which your brand platform will be established. You may find that once all the results are summarized, the information is very much in-sync with your organization’s internal perception of itself.

 

<note: don’t fool yourself into believing the exercise was a waste of time or a worthwhile effort in this situation … it is not only a sanity check but it also alleviates a lot of second guessing at a later date and plays a significant role in aligning everyone on what matters>

 

Research can be used for a variety objectives <value of offering, validation of offerings, etc.> but at minimum use research to best articulate your ‘reason for being’ as a business. this information is like placing the pebble in your hand so that you can drop the right pebble into the middle of the pond. The wrong pebble in the wrong dropping zone and … well … you get the picture.

– competitive audit

You are going to be who, and whatever, you are. Studying the competition shouldn’t change that.

However … by auditing and assessing the competition you can better asses how to best articulate who you are and what you are in ways that insure some distinctness.

 

It is essential to provide a clear differentiated <or distinct> message.

 

And any value in efforts to growing a strong brand will be lost if you haven’t given people a compelling reason to buy the product.

 

– identifying the key brand elements

There are several elements that need to be defined in the branding process.

This is the process of establishing both the tangible and intangible attributes to make the brand distinct.

Think of the most basic platform elements as:

wonderland tunnel

1. Vision or Mission Statement

The vision statement may be called the core belief while the brand promise may be entitled the brand essence. The vision expresses the philosophy driving the organization.

It unites the internal team to a common path. It is a clear sense of destination.

2. Core Identity Concepts <character>

The organization’s core identity … the company character statement.

The core identity captures the set of association, and values, the organization wants to create and maintain. The core identity should be easy to communicate and consistent for all products.

The core identity, while very personal, should take into consideration:

– Understanding of customer needs

– Integrity and honesty in doing business

– Passion to meet and exceed standards and expectations

3. Brand Promise

Simply stated it is what the customer gets from your brand. The promise distills the broad ideas of the platform without losing meaning. The promise drives the value proposition and provides differentiation that can last. The brand promise is sometimes also referred to as the brand essence.

4. Value Proposition

This represents the functional and emotional benefits customers expect to receive by working with the branded company. The proposition reflects a balance between the aspirations and reality of what the brand is able to deliver.

The functional benefit is the real world outcome of choosing and using the brand.

The emotional benefit is the ability of a brand to make a user feel something.

5. The Truth line

This is a line, or phrase, which can be used in all marketing and promotion materials.

It should clearly describe “the business” that the brand is in. It is a descriptor of the brand. This may be one of the most difficult elements of the platform to identify. The effort to try to “boil down” all aspects of your company’s product or service offerings into a simple phrase is not easy.

6. Brand Story

An organization doesn’t have to be famous to have an interesting brand story.

This legend of how the brand got started is used to preserve and enhance a brand’s heritage.

It can provide inspiration and motivation for customers, employees and stakeholders. This story can be used anywhere at any time because … well … it is a story. And people like good stories. I say that because this isn’t a technical manual but rather a personal story of the brand.

 

——

Ok.

 

Those are the basics with regard to the simplicity aspect of growing an uneven brand.

 

By the way.

 

Please note that all brand platforms begin internally.
Not externally.

 

Call it ‘inside out thinking to insure success.’

 

I am not suggesting completely ignoring the external <market opportunities, customers, attitudes & perceptions> but I am suggesting that a brand exists in the soul of the company <just as in the desires and souls of parents with a child> … and not in the soul of some external constituent.
The outside constituent may define the value of your soul or assess whether it has some meaning … but a brand platform is … well … a platform.

 

A foundation.
unexpected changeSomething steadier than some whims of a moving mass of irrational people.

 

Ok.

 

That was the simple part of a brand.

 

Which leads me to the close … which is about unevenness.

 

And the fact a great brand grows unevenly.

 

Just like people.

 

And then there is the complex side of what a human brain likes.

 

The unevenness that makes brand interesting and … well … human.

 

Even imperfect in some ways.
I will admit.

 

I cannot write a lot about the uneven complex dynamics of growing a brand because … well … its unplanned.

 

It just happens.

 

As this brand you have nurtured is allowed to leave its home and go out into the world it begins interacting with different brands, different people and different situations. Each of those interactions creates some context in which the brand evolves and adapts.
As it happens you can choose to adapt … or not adapt.

 

All I can tell you for sure is that the brand you envisioned will grow up to be something not exactly what you envisioned.

 

That is a truth <that not many branding experts will tell you>.

 

But you know what?

 

 

I am not the same person I was when my ‘brand’ first stepped out of the home. I would like to believe that I some ways I am now a better ‘brand’ for all the experiences and Life I have encountered.
A business should take the same view with regard to brands.

 

Anyway.
Suffice it to say the the power of letting a brand grow unevenly is that it makes the brand … well … human … and interesting.

 

This matters because the challenge is that minds are like real estate in that space is limited and we can’t let every brand have a place to stay.

 

 

Unevenness improves chances of gaining brain space and making a connection – a brain and brand connection – that will truly inspire something other than a ‘price’ relationship.

 

Growing a brand unevenly.

 

 

Not for the faint of heart. But certainly has its rewards.
It must relate in human terms to human beings.

 

Because a brand that doesn’t appeal on basic human levels really has no hope of success in today’s marketplace.
Don’t expect this journey to be easy.

 

uneven embrace

Just as rearing a child with its slight haphazardness … a brand takes some discipline, a strategy that moves from simple to complex and a combination of rational and emotional.
But, in the end, if you grow it right … you will have reared a simple human with character & truth and the power to touch people … oh … and some unevenness.

 

An uneven brand is interesting. It has some character. And it will be stronger n adulthood after running the gauntlet of growing pain youth.

friends, feedback, influencing & a new economy

February 7th, 2012

 

 

So.

 

 

My thoughts on this topic were inspired by a trendwatching’s briefing called “The F-Factor.”

 

 

Their briefing (another excellent one by the way) discusses how the impact of influencers’ on purchasing has increased because of the web (and the dynamics associated with the web).

 

By the way. Trendwatching has another excellent briefing called Crowd Clout from about 2007 or so which makes essentially the same point.

 

I am going to try and put my spin on their insights by talking a little about the past (the evolution of this whole influencer explosion) and the future (how it is creating a new economic model).

 

Let me begin by saying despite the advent of “social media & social marketing” that consumer decision-making has always been personal and social.

 

The truth is that consumer decision-making has always been about seeking feedback, leaning on what friends say and seeking ‘influencers’ thoughts … all of which influence the ultimate purpose.

 

This was true even before the media (or people seeking to create some ‘buzz’) added the word “social” to the marketing world. Yes. Even the marketing dinosaurs knew decision making ultimately had a significant social aspect.

 

 

What do I mean?

 

People talked amongst themselves.

 

People talked to their neighbors about home services.

 

People talked to relatives or friends about more personal decisions.

 

People reached out to trusted advisers (doctors for medical, veterinarians for pet stuff, dermatologists for skin stuff … well … you get the picture).

 

People talked and discussed.

 

 

In fact The Economist just did a great article on how Martin Luther built the entire Protestant faith off of ‘buzz.’

 

(boy … that is social media working at levels they could typically only dream of these days)

 

 

The difficulty we face in the current “what is buzzworthy” world we live in today is that it wasn’t called social back then therefore we seem to struggle in choice happiness influencefinding ‘successful past case studies’ (or at least ones that someone will pay attention to). In the “old” days … people simply sought out ‘experts’ (I use the term loosely … let’s assume the definition here is “someone who probably knows more than I do and can inform my decision making process”) to make a better decision.

 

 

Before social media you could always count on the following two factoids with regard to who influenced a purchase the most.

 

 

“Who do you speak with about making a purchase?”

 

 

1. Family.

1a. Friends.

 

(you could flipflop or call it a tie pretty much all the time)

 

 

But something HAS changed.

 

The internet has changed our worldview on friends (and influencers).

 

 

“Our definition of friends has changed because of Facebook, and Twitter, where quantity as opposed to quality is now almost a mantra”.

Rick Murray, President, Digital Edelman Digitas

 

 

Well.

 

 

I don’t know that I totally agree with Rick from Digitas.

 

 

Oddly while social networks do increase quantity research has shown three key things (to indicate that quality is tagging along with the quantity characteristic):

 

1. A Pew Internet research study shows that internet has actually strengthened and expanded existing social roles of churches and fraternal organizations.

Therefore the quantity has simply strengthened existing quality.

 

 

2. the same research showed that more frequent communications via text actually ENCOURAGES the desire to spend more face-to face time

 

 

3. the research also shows that texting requires more careful crafting than a telephone or face-to-face communications and 3 out of 10 teens say “that they are more honest with friends when they talk online” therefore quality is the underlying foundation among all this “random quantity” discussion.

 

 

Next.

 

 

And while we often talk about how internet is influencing people we need to be careful with the ‘influencing’ word.

 

 

Research shows that the web can assist in education but ultimately the final influencer remains one and the same as the past.

 

The most tangible example I have at my fingertips of this notion is the most recent 2011 NPD Group Aftermarket Consumer Outlook Study:

 

 

Q: “Where would you go to learn how to do repairs on your vehicle?”

 

 

 

– Friend/Family                                                57%

=

– Vehicle Repair Manual                               46%

=

– Mechanic                                          42%

=

– Internet                                            42%

=

– Store Personnel                            16% (yikes)

 

Basically a Mechanic is AS influential as the Internet in this decision.

 

 

One word thought here. Wow.

 

 

So.

 

 

The main point here is that a consumer now has access and is aware of more people (true friends as well as web based friends) and can have more frequent communication due to the digital revolution. Yet. Social media is simply the fact that the traditional benefits of an acquaintance network (personal or professional) and friendships can be more expansively realized than before.

 

friends family public is the new private

The other truth is that products today are at the mercy of crowds of friends.

Crowds providing unsolicited feedback and influencing hordes of consumers making decisions on a daily basis.

 

Yes.

 

 

This is the “F-Factor:”

 

 

It is the expanding scenario of consumers increasingly tapping into their networks of friends, fans, and followers to discover, discuss and purchase goods and services, in ever-more sophisticated ways. (source: trendwatching.com)

 

The F-Factor is a real part of people’s lives because it provides real value. Value in that it offers a purchase decision making opportunity that is more efficient, more relevant, and more interesting and provides more “depth/breadth” than before. In the past consumers either had to spend endless time and effort on trying to discover the best of the best, or had to rely on sources that were distant, unknown or untrusted, and therefore potentially unreliable or irrelevant.

 

Now the six degrees of separation (at least in the influencer world) has shrunk significantly to a “no degree of separation” influencer world (this entire phenomena is inherently changing the trust value equation).

 

 

So.

 

 

Trendwatching does a nice job of identifying five ways that the F-FACTOR can influence consumer-buying behavior:

 

1. F-DISCOVERY: How consumers discover new products and services by relying on their social networks (Friends).

 

 

2. F-RATED: How consumers will increasingly (and automatically) receive targeted ratings, recommendations and reviews from their social networks. (by the way … this is creating an entirely new industry of something called ‘curated consumption’ where non-experts become distributors of expert like information).

 

 

3. F-FEEDBACK: How consumers can ask their friends and followers to improve and validate their buying decisions.

 

 

4. F-TOGETHER: How shopping is becoming increasingly social, even when consumers and their peers are not physically together. (in other words, the web permits consumers to share real time information and feedback and opportunities … and this is like a pebble in a pond syndrome where relevance & interest creates ripples difficult to quantify when it works).

 

 

5. F-ME: How consumers’ social networks are literally turned into products and services (curated consumption at its best).

 

 

This is one of those situations where the internet has unequivocally changed the dimensions of existing attitudes & behaviors. Simplistically the web has put the old F-Factor on steroids. I say it that way to point out that the web has not created anything new (attitude wise) but rather has encouraged a desired behavior to new boundaries.

 

 

The internet has also expanded an interesting existing consumer aspect to this entire “influencer” situation.

 

 

It is expanding the entire trend of putting consumers to work (whether they recognize it or not).

 

 

Think about his for a second.

 

 

This trend existed before the web. The easiest early example of this was in the fast food industry. For example the consumer of the fast food restaurant is also to some degree an actual producer of the meal.

 

 

Among other things, diners are expected to serve as their own waiters carrying their meals to their tables or back to their cars, sandwich makers (by adding fixings like tomatoes, lettuce, and onions in some chains), salad makers (by creating their own salads at the salad bar), and bus persons (by disposing of their own debris after the meal is finished).

 

 

This trend has actually existed for quite some time.

 

 

Putting consumers to work gained momentum with companies/brands after the birth of the fast food restaurant and has expanded to other industries:

 

 

–    Being a gas attendant  by pumping your own gas

 

–    Serving as a bank teller at the ATM machine

 

–    Working as the checkout cashier at the supermarket by scanning one’s own food, bagging it, and paying for it by credit card

 

–    Being a ticketing agent by using electronic kiosks to check in at the airport

 

–    Serving as an entertainment guide by co-creating a variety of experiences such as moving oneself through Disney World and its attractions

 

–    Performing traditional medical professional services by using do-it-yourself medical technologies (e.g., blood pressure monitors, blood glucose monitors, pregnancy tests) that allow patients to perform their own medical tasks

 

–    Being a caller on a call-in radio show

 

–    Being part of a Reality TV show

 

 

And now the web has enabled brands (or is it consumer empowerment like everyone suggests) to put consumers to work in a wide range of sometimes subtle and less material ways (this is where the F Factor truly comes into play).

 

 

Once again.

 

 

Think about that.

 

Much of what happens (and is created) online is generated by the user. Today’s web experience is often being defined by users producing content (individually as well as collaboratively). It wasn’t that way in the beginning when most of what existed on the original web was provider-generated but lately there has been an explosion of “consumers doing the work.”

 

 

Some examples of how the internet is putting consumers to work:

 

 

–    Wikipedia – where users generate articles and continually edit, update, and comment on them

 

 

–    Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking websites – where users create profiles composed of videos, photos, and text, interact with one another, and build communities

 

 

–    Second Life – where users create the characters, communities, and the entire virtual environment

 

 

–    Blogs – where the commentary is produced by the consumer

 

 

–    eBay – where users are their own selling agent & shipper

 

 

–    YouTube and Flickr – where mostly amateurs upload and download videos and photographs

 

 

–    Craigslist – where consumers (mostly) create the market

 

 

–    Amazon – where consumers do all the work involved in ordering products and write the reviews. (in addition users’ buying habits and site navigation are documented to recommend products)

 

 

–    Yelp! – where users create an online city guide by ranking, reviewing and discussing various locations and activities in their area

 

 

–    The GeoWeb, which consists of online maps where, increasingly, users are creating and augmenting content with Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo tools. In fact. Google Maps users can fix errors; add the locations of businesses; upload photos; link Wikipedia articles to, and blog about their experiences with, or reviews of, places on the map.

 

 

And that’s not all.

 

 

Start thinking about the new “location awareness” tools, often used in conjunction with ‘smart’ cell phones with GPS technology, which allow users to track where they are at any given moment and upload this information to websites such as Facebook, Twitter or one’s blog (Google Latitude, Yahoo’s Fire Eagle and Loopt mobile phone application).

 

 

Sure.

 

 

This type of consumer involvement in consumption was certainly not invented by the internet, but given the massive involvement in popular online sites, it can be argued that it is currently both the most prevalent location of this new type of consumption (consumer) purchase model … and it is certainly the most important facilitator as a means of consumption.

 

 

Bottom line.idea think explode expand

 

It can be argued that the web is influencing an entirely new consumption model.

 

 

A new economic model (as I so succinctly suggested upfront).

 

 

This leads me to my big finish.

 

 

Friends, feedback and influencers is bigger than simply the web or how brands can compete in this transparent world (where putting consumers to work doesn’t mean they are an employee).

 

 

The F Factor is impacting America & capitalism (forget about the whole brand and branding discussion … this is much bigger than that).

 

 

Capitalism itself will be transformed, perhaps radically, in this F-Factor world we live in. Several thoughts lead me to this conclusion.

 

 

First.

 

The inability of companies (brands) to control consumers in the way, and to the extent, that they have been able to control consumers in the past. Due to increased transparency there is a greater resistance to the incursions of obvious capitalism (e.g. efforts to gain greater control and greater profits).

 

This does not bode well for the companies dabbling in Facebook & twitter & social marketing who are doing so with the intent to “influence or guide purchase behavior.”

 

 

Second.

It is difficult to think of today’s consumer, mentally & attitudinally, as being exploited in the same ways as before. The whole idea of exploitation is contradicted by, among other things, the fact that today’s consumers seem to enjoy, even love, their involvement and what they are doing and are willing to devote long hours to it … for no pay.

 

 

Third.

The emergence of a whole new economic model to conduct business because of the internet. Traditional capitalism is dependent on the notion of the exchange of money for goods and services and profits are made in those exchanges.

However, little or no money changes hands between the users and the owners of many websites (for instance, users do not pay Facebook or Twitter to use the services).

 

 

For one thing there is the unwillingness of corporations and other organizations to pay for work done by these new web based influencers. This is compounded by the fact the new consumer increasingly prefer, and are able, to pay little or nothing for that which they consume on the internet (news, blogs, social networking sites, and so on).

 

 

Think about this as part of a new economic model.

 

 

Friends … family … influencers … or extended employees?

 

 

Yikes.

 

 

That will raise some hackles.

 

 

Yeah. Think about it.

 

 

What I have outlined is contrary to what Humphreys & Grayson (2009) argued that when corporations are involved this type of consumerism is simply the creation of “temporary employees” and thus does not indicate a fundamental change in capitalism.

 

 

Obviously … I disagree … I contend that entire business models based around these new consumer types (the so called “temporary employees”) who are unpaid and given the product for free indicates the possibility of a new form of capitalism.

 

Now.

 

 

If you are a business and you are reading this, think about the implications.

 

 

All these “friends” providing feedback (unasked for or asked for) and influencing gazillions of attitudes (which generate some type of behavior) are your employees (paid or not).

 

They are your associates.

 

They are an extension of all those people who come in every morning, drink your own bad coffee and use the internet inappropriately during business hours in your office.friends unfluencers ripples2

 

 

When you look at them that way would you choose to treat them differently?

 

 

Do things differently?

 

 

Think about your “social media” plans differently?

 

 

Even sit down with strategic planning and think about your business model differently?

 

 

I will help out here.

 

 

The answer to all of those questions should be “yes.”

 

The web is a powerful powerful facilitator of influence & business.

 

 

You may elect to call it “friends & feedback quantity” architecture but I suggest if you want to be successful you think about it as a “quality” mechanism which can impact a new economic model.

 

 

Intimidating? Possibly.

 

 

But if you don’t think of it that way you will probably influence no one and end up on the slippery slope of irrelevance (with no friends).

Enlightened Conflict