Monday, July 02, 2007

Consumers can make or break brands

In the words of Chris Ward, Commercial Director, Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions,

"Social networking has changed the rules of the game and consumers now have the power to make or break a brand. This type of relationship provides a two way dialogue where the brand receives feedback and the social networker could be monetised for their efforts – positive or negative.”

It is common knowledge now that the huge traffic on social networks has made them very interesting marketspaces for marketers ineterested in brand building and product positioning. The changing attitudes to social communication and research figures hugely indicative of the potential of these networks has not only made these social networks important components of the value chain but also a complete market segment that needs to be targetted.

As advertisers move to understand the dynamics of this media,the consumer demographics and behavioural aspects, it is important to understand that groups of people interacting socially observe an etiquette and targetting them will need to be sensitively planned and executed.

Some recent usage trends of social media by corporates have been -

1. The Apple iphone has a myspace profile and as of date, already has 469 friends.It may be recalled that the Apple ipod pink nano which had a profile to promote the product, had amassed as many as 80,000 friends on myspace, before the site was removed. Nice promotional strategy by Apple

2.UK based Topshop by maintaining an online profile on Myspace through a participation in the community, special offers and discounts was able to generate a sizeable amount of visits, as per a report from Hitwise.

3.SouthWest Airlines has a group on myspace,having over 1000 members for those working/associated with southwest airleins. This includes the loyal southwest fyers.The idea is to form a community to share information, plan trips, share travel tips and network.

4.Creation of virtual spaces by VOLVO and MSN on windows live spaces.Consumers were invited to write about their exciting experiences and adventures in a Volvo-brande "What's your story" area.
Here Volvo was able to tap into the motivational factors behind an individual seeking to be an opinion leader feeling like anempowered consumer.

In view of the need to engage the online consumers,Microsoft has released the ‘Word of the Mouse’ Advertising Guidelines recommendations for usage of social networks for proliferation of their brands.

1. Understand consumer’s motivations for using social networks
- 75% of British users use the sites to keep in touch with friends and family
- Approximately half use it to express opinions and views on topics of interest
- 49% use social networks to deepen relationships with like-minded people.

2. Express themselves as a brand
People are using social networks to express their individuality. Networks can be used to express a side of a brand people don’t normally see and encourage them to interact with it – but it needs to remain authentic.

3. Create and maintain good conversations
Individuals are powerful in this environment – they are the content creators, conversation creators and community creators. Brands that are willing to have a dialogue could benefit.

4. Empower participants
You are entering a world of empowered participants who control their own content, are expressing their individuality and would welcome having this power over branded properties on their Space.

5. Identify online brand advocates
Advertisers need to identify relevant networking sites i.e. a site which includes people who already use/buy a company’s product and align to this audience and existing customer segmentation models.
By researching blogging habits or comments on a product in this environment, advertisers can reach out to influentials and begin a dialogue, for example by offering free samples or advanced product releases.

6. Behave like a social networker
A fundamental principle is that the best advertisers on Spaces will behave like the best Spaces owners by:
- Being creative
- Being honest and courteous (ask permission)
- Being individual
- Being conscious of the audience
- Updating regularly

As Advertisers understand that they need to gradually focus on the networked aspects of these communities and use them for spreading messages virally, these social networks provide profound relationship building opportunities with the consumers.

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