News Flash: Big Brands Can Be Social Too

Companies and brands of all sizes can leverage social technologies to interact one on one with customers. Every interaction is a chance to foster community, build advocacy and change opinions. Many Web2.0 and technology companies are of course eating their own dog food doing this, but can a big, dinosaur, established, brand adapt? The folks at Proctor and Gamble are showing it’s possible – in this case with a brand that’s been around since 1946. Here’s an example of how a large, established consumer brand can be just as nimble as startups and smaller companies.

Awhile ago, I shared my thanks to the inventor of the Tide To Go Pen, who created a product that happened to save me from a serious coffee stain right before a client meeting. I even managed to include a misspelling to make it seem authentic (ok, it was really authentic, I made the typo).

tidetweetI started to receive several replies from other enthusiasts for the product. If you look at the Twitter stream of “Tide pen” mentions people are talking about this product. It’s a useful, customer-centric, problem solving product. But I didn’t think I would garner an individual response from the Tide team at P&G.

Have you met Deb Schultz? I first met Deb at the Forrester Consumer Forum in Dallas last year. She is a talented consultant and social media practioner who recently joined a talented crew at Altimeter Group. Case in point, her recent presentation at the Web2.0 expo entitled, “It’s the People, Stupid” about designing social experiences. Deb has been working with P&G for some time, and contacted me to say thanks for my tweet, and encouraged me to go to to share my praise there. I did.

Too often as consumers we pipe up when we have a bad experience with a product or service, I thought I may as well share some praise.  Via DM, the Tide team also asked for my address.  A week or so later I received a small package from the Tide team, including a sample of the new Tide to Go Mini pen, with a note that read:

tidetogo“Dear Adam,
Thanks for complimenting Tide to Go. We appreciate it! Here is a small thank you gift from the Tide Brand.
– The Tide Team”

Want to talk about designing a social experience? The Tide team gets it – every one of these interactions has the potential to build advocacy, good will and influence more customers than just me. I for one felt compelled to tell a few people about my experience via Twitter at the time and this blog post later one. When was the last time you had that kind of interaction with a big brand?

Kudos to the Tide Team, P&G and Deb – I look forward to seeing more from them. And until there are 100% spillproof cups I’ll keep the Tide to Go pen as a staple in my laptop bag.  Have you had a similar positive experience with a big brand?  Please share your experiences in the comments.

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Brand Motivation for Listening

listeningThis post is co-authored with Gargi Patel, Rosetta‘s new Director of Social Media. Gargi has spent several years as a community manager for large consumer brands and we’re fortunate to have her join the Rosetta team.

Everywhere in social media it’s clear: Listening is important.  It’s probably the most important thing you can do to make the most out of social media, whether it’s for your business or for personal interest.  It’s easy to start – Chris Brogan‘s posts on starting with listening channels make up an all-time great reference kit and should be Chapter 1 in the Great Social Media Reference Book.  If every spammer read those posts first, they’d realize they have the wrong idea, but that’s another blog post topic.  If “start listening” is Chapter 1, Chapter 2 should be all about motivation.  Is the motivation for listening different for every brand?  You bet.

Listening, qualifying and quantifying to channels in social media is going to yield different information for every company.  A key to sifting through this is understanding the company’s brand perception and position in the market. Here are some factors that may influence how to move to the next step before turning listening into action.

1.  Brand Development Lifecycle

Does the brand need to build a fan base or just largely maintain its reputation?  For brands with a large public presence or existing polarity in the marketplace, robust analytics and tools with real time alerts are probably necessary.  For very young brands or small businesses, free DIY tools on the web may suffice.  The lifecycle of the development of the brand will influence the reasons for listening.  For example, Budweiser is going to have different motivation for listening and perhaps require different tools than Magic Hat, a lesser known (and personal favorite) microbrewery based in Burlington, VT.   Don’t forget that all of these tools can be used to listen to non-branded terms and competitors in the same way – the lifecycle of the brand will influence those too.

2. The Customer’s Level of Risk

How much risk does the customer need to take on to buy your product?  Is it expensive, does it carry social risk (bad outfit) or have potentially big consequences (insurance)?  The extent to which recommendations from an online social source are impactful depends on the degree of involvement in the purchase.  Cars, insurance policies, and electronics are examples of categories which are highly researched prior to purchase.  Online reviews and chatter in forums can be extremely beneficial or extremely dangerous for these types of items.  Many lesser known items such as books or CDs can also be highly dependent on social reviews.  On the other hand, a low ticket or lesser known consumer brand will have very different needs from its social media monitoring, and customers may be less concerned with doing research.  Building brand awareness may be more important to these brands and subsequently influence what companies are listening for.

3.  Brand Differentiation

Are purchase decisions based more on objective product or service features or based on emotional brand affinity?  To a large extent, products/brands fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum, but many will lean heavily one way or the other.  For example, most people choose a particular airline based on objective service, price and benefits.  Some people buy computers based on an objective evaluation of features to price, but then there are brands that have built an emotional connection (Apple).  Chocolate milk is a commodity, but a brand name can draw a premium based on brand affinity (Nesquik).  Listening to why people differentiate brands will be key in developing an approach to engage those folks down the road.

How we listen, why we listen, and ultimately, how we use this information to engage with consumers will be different depending on the brand proposition.  Does your company listen?  What is your motivation?  What else did we miss?

Photo credit: Okinawa Soba via Flickr

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Healthy Choice Chooses Wisely

workinglunchEvery once in awhile I stumble across a great example of interactive marketing to share.  Today a friend shot me a link to a microsite from the consumer product brand Healthy Choice, that has a lot of the right ingredients for a successful campaign.  The campaign looks like it was launched last fall but I think it will have a long shelf life.  Here are some reasons why I like the campaign.

  • Comedy is good. The central theme around the microsite is a daily comedy improv show.  The actors are funny, regular people loosely resembling the successful TV show the Office.  They depict characters debating various agenda topics during a lunch meeting.  Quality comedic content can make a site more engaging, more viral and keeping people searching the site for more.  The site’s show had daily updates for several weeks when it was launched, for a “season.”  It appears Season 2 ended in November. With agenda topics such as, “What Not to Do at Work,” “Dealing with Flatulence,”and “Reuse Staples.”  This “best of” show from November 25th is a great example.
  • Consumers engage and direct the content. You can submit meeting agenda topics, vote on future meeting topics, and send a “care package” to a friend who has been in too many meetings.  You can subscribe to reminders about the next meeting, browse through many archived shows and read through dozens of humorous articles.
  • Product endorsement is pervasive but not overbearing. Healthy Choice could just have easily made a microsite about nutrition and product information.  Instead they chose a humorous platform and work the product placement in without diluting the quality comedy content.  When you “send a care package” you can share episodes with friends via email but there also is an option to send a Healthy Choice product coupon.


I’m curious what the cost was to produce the show, site and content, and what the overall ROI would be for a site like this versus an ad campaign in a magazine.  No question I spent more time on this site than reading an ad and that Healthy Choice will have ample metrics to measure consumption of the content.  Well done, Healthy Choice.  Do you think this type of microsite works?  What are some examples of others you have seen and liked?

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The Brand Factor: Do Established Brands Have It Easier?

Social MediaDo big, well-known brands have it easier or harder than start-ups trying to make an impact and leveraging social media?  Jeremiah Owyang, the well known social media analyst from Forrester Research, recently wrote a very thoughtful post on the current challenges in social media.  I also recently attended Social Media Camp Boston, which had a number of enterpreneurs presenting on tactics they take to leverage social media platforms.  This got me thinking – what types of companies lend themselves to social media?  I see three major factors that can help to answer this question, among others:

1.  "Traditional" Marketing and PR
2.  Budget for Social Media Efforts
3.  Community Leverage

Traditional Marketing and PR

Many large companies and established brands have yet to embrace and understand some of the tenets of social media.  They are unwilling to relinquish control of the message.  They struggle with fears of engaging customers directly and giving them a voice – looking to avoid negative PR instead of embracing customers and engaging customers.  They term "audience" is still used prevalently because of the one-way communication mindset, where "community," "listening" and "conversation" are not words some of these companies would associate with marketing. 

In some ways, this parallels a presentation I attended at Forrester's Marketing Forum called "The Interactive Marketing Maturity Model."  Shar Van Boskirk did an excellent job capturing four levels of maturity in embracing interactive marketing, which I believe also applies to leveraging social media:

  • "Skeptics," characterized by little or no interactive experience and assessing if interactive has value for them
  • "Mavericks," organizations that have a few isolated team members that appreciate interactive and run stand-alone programs but lack support to improve current efforts
  • "Practitioners," companies who have several years of experience and are piloting emerging media, and
  • "Optimizers," who have company-wide support for interactive efforts and are working to optimize multi-channel (including offline) efforts.1

With very few "optimizers" out there in the big corporations, it can be difficult for those companies to bridge the gap and trully leverage social media.  They need to retain talent in the industry, like Ford's recent hire of Scott Monty and Nationwide's recent hiring of Shawn Morton.

On the flip side, smaller startup organizations can be more nimble and have few constraints around controlling the brand message.  A great example of this is Freshbooks, led by chief "magic maker" Saul Colt.  Their entire marketing approach is to build a community of passionate users and embrace their customers with open and earnestly helpful dialog.

Budget for Social Media Efforts

More traditional organizations will ask the ROI question.  As Jeremiah points out, it's difficult to measure ROI on "engagement" and no industry standard exists.  Larger established brands may be less willing to take risks – where startups practically need to take a risk to differentiate themselves.  An untapped, unproven landscape in social media is ripe for startups (even though they may be spending funding rather than profits).  Albert Maruggi of the Marketing Edge, thinks companies need to get past the ROI question, using magazines' spending $14 million to buy a baby picture of Brangelina's kids as an example.

I think it should be easier for larger companies to allocate budget (including resources) to focus on social media due to their scale and the relatively low barrier to entry of leveraging many of these tools.  Sometimes process and a lack of executive sponsorship get in the way.

Community Leverage

Another factor in determining whether big brands have it easier is whether they already have a community to tap into.  Nike's Jordan division is a well known and loved brand – leveraging social media platforms and tools should be easy since there are passionate fans out there who would willingly participate.  For crying out loud, people fight and even risk lives in getting a hold of the latest shoe design. 

Smaller startups need to build communities, one person at a time.  Melanie Notkin has done a terrific job at building a community over months leading up to the launch of, using her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.  It can be arguably harder to build a community than to engage one that exists, but I'd be interested to hear from folks who have more expertise on each before I decide on that one.

So which is it?

Do big brands have it easier or harder leveraging social media?  Are there other factors to consider?  Please take the poll and let me know what you think.

1 Source: The Interactive Marketing Maturity Model, Shar Van Boskirk, Forrester Research, April 9, 2008.
Photo credit: mrwilleeumm via Flickr