Wednesday, September 30, 2009
WHAT DO SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE PRINTING PRESS HAVE IN COMMON?
3:42 pm pdt
Alex Carey suggested
that the 20th Century was “characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy,
the growth of corporate power and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting the corporate power against
To me, the first decade of the 21st Century will be remembered for the historic election of President
Obama, the public distrust of large corporations and their brands as a consequence of the financial crisis and ensuing recession,
and the role of social media in giving a voice back to the people. Just as the printing press of 1440 enabled democracy
in the West, so too has social media enhanced the democratic process today, given a voice back to the people and restored
the balance of power between governments and/or corporations and the masses.
I want to focus the rest of this discussion on how social media can restore
the balance of power between organizations and its customers, which then provides the potential to restore trust in brands
and the organizations who own brands. I will do this by relating my discussion to the five principles of democracy:
1. Freedom of speech, debate and democracy: traditional mass communication channels involve one-way
communication between the organization and its customers. Customers can become aggrieved that the organization has lost touch
with customer needs and somehow doesn’t value the importance of individual customers in keeping the organization afloat
(remember: “customers are the reason you are in business”). With social media, consumers can communicate freely
between themselves, seek recommendations from people they trust and/or people who position themselves as opinion leaders,
and they can freely give opinions back to the organization.
2. Popular democracy: traditionally organizations have shaped and controlled their own messages, for example, messages
about the brand and its value proposition. One characteristic of social media is that it is consumer generated. While many
marketing managers fear losing control of the brand message, there are benefits with consumer generated media in that it provides
rich insights for marketing managers, immediate feedback from the market on any aspect of its product, brand and marketing
strategy, and quick identification of problems or misinformation. For consumers, one advantage is that they can mobilize and
then put pressure on an organization to change a product, policy or part of the way in which the product is delivered to consumers.
3. Open accountable and diverse media: mass media should be open and transparent so that we can identify
the source of news and individual, corporate or government agendas. In addition, mass media should be sufficiently diverse
such that monopolies do not develop and dominate opinion. While on-going mergers and acquisitions can create an oligopoly
structure within the communications industry, with social media the messages are many and not controlled by a few.
4. Economic democracy for the people: with this principle, power is decentralized and smaller communities
can form. Social media has not changed the desire of consumers to join a club or community; it has simply made it easier for
brand communities to form and consumers to engage.
5. Equality before the law: social media removes any hierarchy and allows consumers to be treated as equally important.
What this means is that an organization does not know whether a consumer generated comment comes from say a small or large
customer, or a recent or lapsed customer. Rather, the organization has to treat each customer comment as equally important.
all this mean for marketing managers? There is plenty of evidence to show just how social media can facilitate the democratic
process: think back to the election of President Obama, or the recent election in Iran. These examples also provide
rich evidence of the willingness of the masses (or in the context of this post, consumers), to be heard.
Yet, we know that many organizations struggle
to know what to do with social media – for example, only 15% of Fortune 500 companies maintain a blog and most of these
blogs are hosted within the organization’s website. The low incidence of Fortune 500 blogs is likely to be a reflection
of a generation gap (that is, the Chief Marketing Officers who make strategic marketing decisions being unfamiliar with terms
such as facebook, blogs, posts and twitter) and an overwhelming fear of the consequences of losing control of the brand message.
In addition, and at a time when organizations need to be more accountable for marketing expenditure and make more efficient
decisions on how to allocate scarce marketing resources, social media poses substantive challenges because it is difficult
to demonstrate a return on marketing investment for something so new, something for which we talk about “best known
practice” not “best practice”.
But, times have changed and like it or not, social media is here to stay. Social media is not as
a replacement for traditional media but should be seen as a compliment, as part of an integrated marketing communications
strategy. To me what is interesting is watching different organizations embrace social media, leaders who are willing to learn
and experiment in order to shape best practice, and be brave enough to recognize that they can no longer completely control
the brand message.
Friday, September 25, 2009
WILL CONSUMERS CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOR ONCE THE CURRENT RECESSION ENDS?
2:25 pm pdt
Two of the BIG questions facing marketing managers today are: (1) when will consumers open their
wallets again; and (2) will consumers behave differently when they do?
We know that consumer spending accounts for 70% of all economic activity in the US and we know that consumers are
being asked to consume to kick start the economy and end the recession, just as they were asked to do so after World War II
and 9/11. Once again, consumption is, being positioned as an act of patriotism.
But what makes
this recession different to all other recessions is the extent to which damage has been inflicted on individuals: unemployment
is nudging 10% (although many more are affected by the downturn in the labor market), retirement savings and college funds
have been decimated, and people have lost their homes and with it their sense of self worth. To hear grown men and women telling
their stories, to hear the despair in their voices, the sense of betrayal they feel towards lenders and employers is revealing.
Can people ever truly recover from the emotional and material damage the recession has caused?
Along with a drop in consumption, we have seen some behavioral shifts take place: consumers are taking care not to engage in conspicuous
consumption, which is one of the reasons Starbucks felt the need to reposition its brand; many consumers no longer trust big
brands, which is why American Express recently began a campaign to regain consumer trust; consumers have become a lot more
value driven, which is one of the reasons why private labels are doing so well; consumers are delaying the purchase of big
ticket items, which is why the sales of new cars have plummeted; consumers are paying attention to their carbon footprint
which is on of the reasons why ZipCar is doing so well and bottled water is not; and consumers are paying more attention to
the source of products they buy, which is why we have seen a resurgence in an interest in self sufficiency (remember Michelle
Obama’s vegetable garden?).
If we take into account deep-seated cultural values, however, we realize just how
hard it is to expect a permanent change. In the US for example, like many other market driven economies, business and government leaders are rewarded
for generating economic growth and maximizing returns to shareholders – often in the absence of regulations and without
consideration to likely negative consequences. We just need to look a the innovation and growth that occurred in the financial
services sector, and the consequences that unfolded when Lehmann Brothers collapsed in September 2008, for evidence of this.
In the green shoots of economic recovery, it seems that there are also green shoots of behavior
that resemble that which got us into trouble in the first place – for example, businesses that help people renegotiate
the terms of their mortgages with lenders for a fee (more like take the money and run). What this demonstrates is that there
will always be ways to make money, ways that are not (yet) illegal but are still harmful to consumers.
It won’t be hard to identify an increase in consumer spending but it will be more difficult to detect whether
in fact consumers’ values have fundamentally changed. Now that will be interesting.
Friday, September 18, 2009
AVOID THE TEMPTATION TO CUT MARKETING BUDGETS TO BALANCE THE BOOKS
3:51 pm pdt
The Nielsen Company has just released data that shows advertising expenditure in the US fell 15.4%
in the first half of 2009. A total of $56.9 billion was spent on advertising in the first six months of the year, $10.3 billion
less than the same time period in 2008. All evidence that in times of recession, marketing budgets are among the first to be cut. But, cutting marketing budgets to balance the
books is a bad idea. Here’s why.
Why are marketing budget
cuts? Well, we all understand that marketing expenditure
is not directly tied to the immediate production of output. What this means is that marketing budgets are among the first
to be cut when managers are trying to find ways to drive down costs in order to retain shareholder confidence and stay afloat. Because marketing expenditure
is treated as an annual expense, managers often justify the decimation of marketing budgets on the basis that the effects
will only be felt in the current year. The view is that once the recession ends we can return to our previous levels of marketing
expenditure – that is, we can pick up where we left off without having damaged our brands at all.
It turns out that marketing expenditure does influence the long-term value of the firm. One day (when I had nothing
else to do), I decided to pull together a database to enable me to examine firm performance during the last big recession
– the 1980s recession. I measured firm performance in 1979, which is the year before the recession began, measured marketing
expenditure during the recession and then measured firm performance one year and five years after the recession ended.
I found that
firms that spent more on marketing than their peers during the recession enjoyed a higher market value five years after the recession ended. To me, this result provides
clear evidence of the long-term effects of marketing expenditure.
This result is important because during
a recession, not only are marketing budgets being cut but also marketing managers are reconfiguring how to allocate marketing
funds. What this means is that during a recession, it is tempting is to focus marketing expenditure on areas likely to result
in short-term gain (for example, discounting prices, offering coupons and other sales promotions, or using direct response
advertising which makes it easier to measure marketing effectiveness), without paying any attention to the maintaining and
building the long-term value of the brands.
And so what do I recommend? Right now, managers should
resist the pressure to cut marketing budgets and resist the pressure to focus mostly on marketing activities that generate
short term gain. The recession will end and firms that come are stronger will be those firms that clearly understand the contribution
of brands to the long-term value of the firm. Now that’s interesting.
CAN STRONG BRAND MANAGEMENT PRACTICES HINDER CAREER OPPORTUNITIES?
12:30 pm pdt
A recent article in BusinessWeek (Sept 14, 2009) discussed organizations headhunters look to when
trying to identify management talent. General Electric, IBM and Hewlett-Packard were cited as organizations that develop executives
who thrive elsewhere, while The Coca-Cola Company does not.
The reason given is that "the very
attributes that make Coke a great company - an iconic brand and an unmatched global distribution system - also make it easy
for young mangers to rise without having to develop the entrepreneurial skills necessary to compete in other areas."
What a fascinating contradiction. According to Interbrand, Coke is the
#1 brand in the world. Yet, it seems that in order to adopt stellar strategic brand management practices, the organization
needs to adopt a bureaucratic culture that discourages its employees from developing an entrepreneurial spirit. Now that's
WILL CONSUMERS' BEHAVIOR CHANGE AS A RESULT OF THE RECESSION?
12:12 pm pdt
There is much debate about whether the change we see now in consumption behavior will last. Because of the recession,
consumers have cut back and are making different choices.
A recent article in the Los Angeles Times (September 13), outlined changes
to consumption behavior in the luxury fashion industry. Consumers have become “less brand centric and more consumer
centric”. They don’t want to wait six months between seeing designer clothes at a fashion show and being able
to buy them in stores.
Motivated in part by the recession and in part by the use of the Internet to facilitate purchase
decision-making, it seems that the world of luxury fashion is taking lessons from the fast-fashion world. Where fashion shows
used to be for the elite, it seems that everyone can see the latest styles on the Internet immediately a fashion show is over
and then expect these styles to appear quickly in ranges carried by Wal-Mart through to more prestigious designer labels.
global strategy of branding and merchandising that has dominated the luxury sector for the last decade has fallen away in
favor of more authentic, localized experiences.”
As with many industries, necessity is the mother of invention and, it seems,
luxury fashion is not exempt: “Some people will be left behind but in the long run this will be healthy for the fashion