Yesterday, I had the invaluable opportunity of attending an insightful presentation on organizing a global brand strategy by Lani Lorenz Fry, Global Brand Strategy Manager at John Deere.  Lani was a guest presenter  at Craig Shoemaker’s strategic marketing class at St. Ambrose University where I had also presented recently.

John Deere Website

John Deere's Agriculture Landing Page.

Lani explained the mechanics of a how a globally diversified company such as John Deere recognizing the importance of its brand,  researched its status, marshaled resources, and then implemented a systematic process of developing a cohesive identity for a diverse range of customers across differing sectors.

I do not think there is any need for me to go into the importance of branding and its components. As there are plenty of resources on the web for that. I really appreciated how Lani explained the mechanics of organizing internal resources in building a brand – great  insight into the subtle, practical details in brand implementation for a global presence.

#1: Branding Touchpoints
All marketing professionals recognize that a company’s brand is ultimately a comprehensive distillation of of its activities beyond promotion materials and visual identity.

Brnad Touchpoint Wheel

Branding Touchpoints Wheel. Image: Red Tie Marketing

However, quite often it is  difficult to connect with colleagues across the organization on how their roles influence the overall development of the brand  (Note that one does not have to be a part of a large multinational to encounter this challenge!). While there is no way of getting around the long, slow, educational process to help bring everyone on board,  I find exposing the various branding touchpoints and expanding on how each influence the brand experience is extremely effective. An advantage of using a branding touchpoints schematic in the process of education is that helps establish the team effort behind the strategy and each constituent has a well-defined role within this complex institution-wide effort.

#2: The “Invisibles”
While it is common to see graphical examples of a company’s brand portfolio. There other more subtle details that can also help shape the overall impact of a company’s brand. Some of these are tone (the “voice” used in communications ), mood (delivered through imagery such as photography) and even naming conventions, and, what is particularly relevant in the production sector: naming convention. Must confess, at first this came as a bit of surprise but Lani’s explanation revealed the value. For a company  delivering a complex array of products  with a variety of OEM accessories, an organized naming system can help customers determine where the product fits within the catalog and therefore helps create a more clear, distinct identity of offerings.

#3: (Internal) Brand Ambassadors
Internal support and participation is critical in helping shape an institutional brand.  If constituents across the touchpoint wheel do not follow through, the branding effort will be isolated as a shallow marketing effort that does not match the depth and potential of a true brand.  One of the ways John Deere ensure that the message of roles and responsibilities connected through the organization was by recruiting brand ambassadors within various units. Brand ambassadors were identified as those colleagues that  influenced the social network within that unit. Important to note that these ambassadors were not necessarily unit managers which could potentially color the effort as a  top-down directive, but those that had influence within the team because of their presence, and could therefore help introduce operational changes.

I do not think the role of brand ambassadors need to be specific to a global organization. Any  company has more than one team as a part of its operations should look into recruiting ambassadors across the various teams to help bring implement the strategy-driven initiatives.

Bonus Takeaway: Efficiency
One factor that seemed that really resonated with me was efficiency.  It important that the group the is delivering the brand strategy for an organization as a whole, create a system that makes it easy for their colleagues to adapt these initiatives. Creating samples, style guides, assembling a help desk style resource to answer questions in a prompt courteous manner, all help bring the various branches into alignment.

While the customer and general audience see the most glamorous or creative aspects of branding, the reality is the backend – like any other foundational exercise, entails a lot of preparation, careful planning and execution!

Social Networks across the globe - National Geographic

Relative sizes of social networks across the globe. Image: Olver Uberti, NG Staff; Hiram Henriquez

We are all familiar with the big social networks  (Facebook. Twitter, etc.) but are they the same for all over the world? National Geographic (March, 2010) had a really interesting item on how people across the world socialize.  Their comments on the different social networks (based on internet connection speed or locally sourced networks) tells us that while as an activity, social networks may have a global presence, there still remain pockets for localized activity.

So this is all nice and interesting  – but is it useful? Sure! If you want to say make friends in India or Brazil – you may want to head to Orkut.

But more seriously, there is a potential for businesses and organizations to also take advantage of such global distributions. If a company wants to target a market in say Brazil, India or Russia, it might want to set up a social network specific to that particular audience as an opportunity to sponsor this group. In other words, if you have a global audience, do not just settle on a common social networking site. Investigate if an important target segment favors any particular social networking site and make sure to devote resources to it. Note, that a smaller social networking site is not all that bad as it may allow you to create a more specific, targeted and active group. As per previous post – size is not everything!

Clive Thompson’s comments on the size of social media (Wired, Feb 2010) are insightful . While convention demands that larger the population size, greater the value of your network, Clive does raise a very valid point that as size increases the social aspect of the network is reduced and the system moves into a more conventional broadcast process.  Discussions do not maintain the same pace and emotion as a group gains in size.  The point that socializing does not scale is very important as you plan your social media strategy.

A large network is not conducive to conversation.

A large network is not conducive to conversation. Image: Helen Yentus-JasonBooher/Wired

While Clive’s comments center around population size, he does acknowledge the difference between  “digital Oprahs” and non-celebrities. With celebrities, even though there might be a perception of intimacy, the reality is that conversation is not expected. However, if the social network for a non-celebrity (either a person or a business) keeps growing and as discussions dim, there is a good chance that the social network will get stuck in a rut: it may not foster the cross-traffic typical of a small group and also fall short of the the scale relevant to a broadcast environment.

The fact that conversations become self-limiting as the size of the group grows is well made. It is but natural that we are more likely to censor ourselves in direct proportion to the size of the audience.

Clive inquires if we should design tools that reward obscurity – tools that help us to maintain the critical mass  to enable conversation to thrive.  I do not think it is as much about the tools, as it is the way we measure our social network performance.  While there may be a place for celebrity-oriented social networks, which are just another form of broadcasts, the overall majority of social networks are organized as platforms for conversation. The success of a social media network should therefore be determined by the frequency and  number of posts from the audience.

So, should we lock down a network when it grows to a certain size? I do not think there is a need to necessarily lock it down, as much as to investigate the option of spawning  a “sub-group”.  As your group grows and you notice that conversations are dropping off , it may be time to explore your network and see if may  not help to start another network that can target a specific area of interest and therefore help maintain a network that thrives with conversation.

The point that we should not just focus on size and recruiting, but also measure the actual conversations is well made and something all organizations and people should consider as they launch a social medial initiative.

It all started when I was discussing options for software that would be useful for my nephew and niece who are college students in India. So what began as a simple exercise in software evaluation, (at least for me) took an interesting turn into best practices for audience segmentation

Microsoft Country Pick

Where Microsoft displays the country selected.

To check out what version of Office would be best for college students in India, I went to Microsoft.com and used the global site option to switch to India. While the overall page schema remained the same; the page refresh, name of country in the top right corner, and overall change in content items informed that I was now on the India-portion of the Microsoft site.

It was then that I remembered that Microsoft does offer student discounts on software, and so I entered “student discount” into the search page and promptly got a series of page results. Unfortunately, it was only after I clicked through the results that I realized that I was seeing content that was from the US site, and therefore not relevant to an Indian audience. With all the results coming out of sites outside India, I had to infer that student discounts were not an option for Indian audiences.

T o make sure that I was not being directed by default to US pages in my search results because of the geographical location of where I was accessing the Web, I requested my brother in India to follow the same steps and he got the same results.

Columnar display of retailers with no call to action/links/contact info.

So, did that pull the plug on my efforts? Nah! Price conscious (potential) customers do not give up that easily! I wondered if it would help if we contacted some resellers directly and so using the “Buy Now” link, I selected “Retail Stores” and then narrowed my option down to the software and city of choice. But then hit another brick wall.

Hard to believe but in the second decade of the 21st century, one the largest software companies in the world, just lists the names of stores in one of its most populous markets! A simple column of names and one line description of location – no Web links to the reseller, email contact, phone  – nada! Now, how useful is that in promoting your distribution network and encouraging contact? Yes, online purchasing is available, but to have true customer focus you must address all the potential contact points the customer is likely to favor.

So, some quick takeaways…

  1. Use a flag icon or something similar next to the name of the country so users can use the visual key to determine which site they are accessing   (Microsoft can pick up a cue from Dell on this one).
  2. If product features or services change across regions – isolate your search functionality accordingly.  And if you cannot isolate search functionality, than split us your results so that users have a clear indication of the various portions of the site that are used to draw the results. This avoids confusion for the user.
  3. Investigate options such as cookies to help remember basic site-global values such as India. With a simple technique such as that, repeat visitors will not have to make adjustments each time they access a common, global URL. Having the ability to set up profiles is useful, but not for site visitors who have not initiated any formal relationship with the company.
  4. Promote your contact points. Use call-to-action and simple forms to encourage site visitors to contact the various access points in your delivery network.
How Dell displays the country seleted.

How Dell displays the country selected.

I know the above points seem to reference a pretty substantial case such as a global website. But this is equally relevant if you have an institution that offers different services for different audience groups: multi-campus, multi-regional institution such as health networks or say a university. The most important factor is recognizing your site visitors have certain preferences and you are willing to adjust your content and functional delivery to best suit their needs.

And one more thing – while I was at the Microsoft Office site, I could not find a way to go back easily to the Microsoft home page – but I will leave that discussion for another time! :)

It all started when I was discussing options for what software that would be useful for my nephew and niece who are college students in India. So what began as a simple exercise in software evaluation, (at least for me) took an interesting turn into best practices for audience segmentation

To check out what version of Office would be best for college students in India, I went to Microsoft.com and used the global site option to switch to India. While the overall schema of the page remained the same; the page refresh, name of country in the top right corner, and overall change in content items informed that I was now on the India-portion of the Microsoft site.

It was then that I remembered that here in the US one can get academic discounts and so I entered “student discount” into the search page and promptly got a series of page results. Unfortunately, it was only after I clicked through the results that I realized that I was seeing content that was from the US site and therefore not relevant to an Indian audience. There were no student discounts available in India.

T o make sure that I was not being directed by default to US pages in my search because of my geographical location, I requested my brother in India to follow the same steps and he got the same result.

So, did that pull the plug on my efforts? Not exactly, I wondered if it would help if we contacted some of stores directly and so using the “Buy Now” link I selected Retail Stores as the option and then narrowed my option down to the software and city of choice. And then hit another brick wall.

Hard to believe but in the second decade of the 21st century, one the largest software companies in the world, just lists the names of stores in one of its most populous markets! Just a simple column of names and one line description of location – no Web links to the reseller, email contact, phone  – nada! Now, how useful is that in promoting your distribution network and encouraging contact? Yes, online purchasing is available, but to have true customer focus you must address all the potential contact points the customer is likely to favor.

So, some quick takeaways…

1- Use an icon such as a flag next to the name of the country so users can use the visual icon as a key to determine which site they are accessing. (Microsoft can pick up a cue from Dell on this one)

2- If product features or services change across regions – isolate your search functionality accordingly.  And if you cannot isolate search functionality, than split us your results so that users have a clear indication of the various portions of the site that are used to draw the results. This avoids confusion for the user.

3- Investigate options such as cookies to help remember basic site-global values such as India. With a simple technique such as that, repeat visitors will not have to make adjustments each time they access a common, global URL.

4- Promote your contact points. Use call-to-action and simple forms to encourage site visitors to contact the various access points in your delivery network.

I know the above points reference a pretty substantial case such as global website. But this is equally relevant if you have an institution that offers different services for different audience groups.  This could be any multi-campus, multi-regional institution such as health network or say a university. The most important time is you are recognizing your site visitor as certain preferences and you are willing to adjust your content and functional delivery to best suit their needs.

And one more thing, while I was at the Microsoft Office site, I could not find a way to go back easily to the Microsoft home page – but I will leave that discussion for another time!

My thanks to Dr. Craig Shoemaker and the students of St. Ambrose University. He invited me to lead a discussion with his marketing class on how social media (SM) is influencing public relations and marketing.

What began initially as a survey into the latest sea change in online activity, very quickly became an engrossing investigation on how the paradigm is changing across society. It was quite interesting to dip into the role of both consumers (as participants in SM) and purveyors (as communicators and marketers). And I think this blurring of boundaries is what describes the environment of social media.  For a business to be a successful player in this field – it is as important to listen as it is to speak. Success is social media is conversation and dialog  – and not just your message.

Social media is a bigger player than the  mailing in your email or even the nascent versions of online community (i.e. discussion forums and bulletin boards) is the peer-to-peer layers along with the relevance of influencers.

Social Media's Influence of PR and Marketing

Featured Presentation of the Day. Yeah!

My takeaway from the discussion was that almost all forms of mass communication is based on some version of revenue support (possible exception of government sponsored communication!) and so it was interesting to see how business and  broadcast models are influencing each other.  This is largely driven by the considerably more participatory nature of the audience. Business is going to focus on social media because it knows that is where the audience is gathering. The challenge is business needs to recognize the channel is different and so has to adjust their communications and marketing mechanisms to be successful in the SM environment.

An interesting sidenote:  SlideShare.net selected the presentation as a Featured Presentation for their home page for today!

Do check out the presentation and post comments – would welcome your feedback and input!

There is going to be some slightly less fizz at the Super Bowl this year as Pepsi is bowing out of this marquee line up for the first time in 23 years. Pepsi’s presence has been mainstay with their ads featuring dancing bears to Cindy Crawford.

Veering away from the high-profile buzz-ready Super Bowl commercial media platform, Pepsi is opting for Facebook – an online platform that in some ways is arguably becoming a proportionate presence within online channels.

Pepsi Refresh Everything on Facebook

Peps's "Refresh Everything" Facebook presence.

Investing 20 million dollars into the “Pepsi Refresh Project” Pepsi is utilizing a new website and Facebook presence inviting the public to apply for grants to fund community projects across six categories: health, arts and culture, food and shelter, the planet, neighborhoods and education.

It is but natural this is a big story in media and marketing circles. And everyone is going to see if this is master move or a fumble.

For me, the big story is the move by a global brand to leverage viral marketing, within a cause-related marketing effort.

Its but natural to query why Pepsi decided to skip the Super Bowl. Would it not be best that such a major marketing initiative be launched before the estimated 100 million strong Super Bowl audience? And that is where you encounter some of the challenges of cause-related marketing.  If you want to commit $20 million for a good cause, it’s going to look disingenuous to expend millions over a couple of minutes of advertising.

While Pepsi may be ignoring the big game, it does still share a lot in common with the Doritos ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ campaign. Both of these campaigns lean on social networking and solicit content and votes from the public.

I think this is a great move by Pepsi. Even though they are not part of the Super Bowl ad line up, they have generated enough ink and bytes buzz to generate momentum for their marketing campaign. In fact, this is the classic case of creating buzz by not being a part of the show!

Oh yes, they may not be a part of the water cooler conversation after Super Bowl Sunday (or for that matter, Twitter and Facebook posts during the game! I ma really interested to see how much traffic there in those networks during the game), but this campaign engages a broad audience base and helps Pepsi connect directly to a good cause is likely to benefit them in the long run.

So is this precursor of a major shift in how advertisers approach the Super Bowl? I doubt it. Super Bowl commercials are still a cultural phenomenon that still benefits almost every stakeholder involved (advertisers, broadcasters, NFL, football and non-football fans) that it is unlikely we are going to see any sort of  dip in the A-list ranking of the big game as an advertising platform, but I do think this is a big step forward for social marketing and exciting times are ahead.

Lately we have been having some really lousy weather! No down home Midwestern charm to this winter.

Winter Storms are not fun!

Not fun! {Image: Red Cross - Oregon Mountain River Chapter}

One early morning ritual we end up following is to wrap our hands around a warm mug of tea and keep one eye on the local television news ticker to see if the school names show up – and keep the other on institutional websites to see which if our school or college is closed/delayed.

After the last series of storms, I started looking at this from a PR/customer service perspective….

We all recognize that weather closings (just like the weather!) are within a highly dynamic environment. There is a strict decision-making process, and the decision itself is multi-layered and complex.  It may be just a delay or an evening cancellation, or it may apply to a specific group of people.  So how do you corral this into a systematic communications process?

Advance Preparation & Transparency
Well, the first thing is to advance informational preparation. Does your website Intranet have an easily accessible link to inform stakeholders of the policy involved and the process used in making the decision and identifying the various communications channels used to inform stakeholders?  Try and make this transparent by including information of who all is involved in the decision-making, how and where the messages are posted (including sample screenshots), and what is usually the cut-off time for a decision. I cannot stress the importance of the cut-off time and letting people know the same. This helps your extended community make alternate plans at the earliest practical time.

I am also toying with the idea that it may help if the weather and impending closing are a part of the local news (“Watch our ticker for closings), than it may also be a good idea to include a ‘Watch this space’ alert in some “passive” areas such as home pages, etc. This way you are not blasting a message out but informing people that come looking that a decision is impending. What do you think?

Communicating Communications
Now, I have been involved in communications long enough to know that folks are not likely to remember the policy and details of the process. But then, that is why it is helpful to use specific milestones such as semester starts, new hires and student orientation, and even the beginning of inclement weather season, to remind our stakeholders (staff, students, parents, etc.) of this information and its availability. In fact, as you enter the season, you may want to create a specific icon that highlights this communications process and include it on the home page of the various Intranets, microsites, and even social networks such as Facebook.

Multi-channel and Process Efficiencies
It is an unfortunate reality that a mass communications process for weather closings does share a lot in common with other crises communications protocols (for e.g. security alerts) so make sure you can build in some operational efficiency by checking to see how many of the resources and processes can be shared.

MMobile Alerts are a necessity for any mass communications plan

Mobile Alerts are a necessity for any mass communications plan. { Image: e2com}

There are a number of vendors (such as e2campus) that automate message delivery across a number of channels. This multiple-channel alert system is really a basic necessity with the variety of options we use to communicate and network.  I cannot understate the importance of posting to social media networks and using text messages. The reality is that we have to get the message to where our stakeholders congregate as opposed to where we expect them to arrive. There is good chance many of them are more likely to be on Twitter and Facebook than on the main institutional site.

Along with clearly identifying which members of your community and what activities are affected by this closing, always try and include a link back to your inclement weather policy if possible. This will make it really easy for your stakeholders to get additional information if they so desire.

Yes, kids of all ages enjoy an occasional snow day. But, the reality also is that a school closing has a ripple effect far beyond just the academic schedule for students and faculty. Parents have to seek alternate plans for their minors, or need reassurance their kids are safe at college, and staff may need to start adjusting schedules. Any educational institution that is proactive in addressing these needs, sends the message that it cares about it stakeholders, their well being, and peace of mind.

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