Social Economics: For All Brands, You Have No CHOICE But To Do This!

I saw a video the other day on Twitter from Crumple it Up. The original post came from Socialnomics. It finally brought to light all the reasons why brands, who still hesitate to engage in social media, should do it now. This is not a fad or a testing arena. Social media is a place that’s existed for a long time and has gone undetected by the big brands. This is a place that’s held powerful discussions that have affected the very brands that have ignored or dismissed it. This is a place that can impact every part of your organization as a whole. This is a place that will change the way you think and approach your business.

I understand why it’s difficult to enter into this space: some brands aren’t ready to face the consumer head on… one to one…in conversation.  This is not a medium that befits a corporate PR guy, willing and ready to pull together approved responses espousing the view of the corporation to the masses. No one in the social arena pays heed to any of the corporate speak. They just want to talk and they want to be heard.

For those brands who hesitate and fear the medium, here’s what I have to say:

  • Start-ups have been engaging in social media for years and have benefited greatly. They were not endowed with huge marketing budgets so they’ve had to resort to more efficient roll-up-your-sleeves-type approaches to succeed. The key to building strong and enduring brand: do it one satisfied customer at a time!
  • People want to talk to you and they want you to listen to them. Be warned that you will hear the good and the bad. The key is learning from it and understanding its implications.
  • Confront your detractors. They are the key to making you greater. One of my clients continues to engage with the complainers, as well as the rally-the-troops-and-boycott-the-company type misfits. And they’re tackling it one issue at a time. The company has a long way to go to earn respect and confidence from its customers but the very act of engaging has mitigated customer churn. It has also provided a NEW avenue for customers to provide their views and suggestions and to feel like they’re being listened to. Once you satisfy a detractor, he will be your most avid supporter. And be ready to open the doors to a flood of new business.
  • Engage as a person. You don’t need the veil of an organized, PR-approved response — that goes nowhere in this space. It’s akin to meeting new people at a Christmas party: Introduce yourself. Tell the other person about you. Then ask about the other person. Stop and listen and understand. Remember, the corporate voice needs a human voice to be accessible and to engage in meaningful dialogue.
  • It’s not easy. It takes a lot of work. But the effort produces strong relationships that are lasting. And the money….it’ll be there as well…guaranteed!

Good luck!

CHCanada Case Study: Behold the Fruits of Transparency and Engagement

This is a true story of social media success that didn’t take long to generate signs that it was indeed working. This is one of my best examples of following social media rules of engagement to work in the brand favour. The reason this success is so profound is because its marketing team, while well versed in utilizing online (search, display, affiliate) marketing to achieve clear ROI success, did not necessarily see social media as a venue to achieve similar results.

Columbia House was a traditional direct mail company, whose strong foundation of measurability, attribution and ROI were key pillars that drove its success for many years. Technology and industry changes ie the decline of music CD consumption…Apple’s introduction of the iPod… and the subsequent move to cheaper MP3 downloads, left the music industry scrambling to monetize artists and their music. This, in turn, necessitated Columbia House to focus more efforts on movie sales. Despite its long tenure and strong presence in the movie entertainment distribution business, it had also met with criticism from users in areas regarding claims of negative option, unfair shipping charges, and challenging customer service issues.

So a new company was started in Canada –> with a new business model that responded to many of these consumer claims in hopes of starting fresh, recruiting a new support base and migrating its loyal customer base. The new company launched November 2008 and its positioning has been evident on their website to this day: “CH Welcome to the NEW Columbia House..You spoke, we listened…No more unwanted shipments..”

Initial social insights were conducted around the brand and its competitors in the weeks before launch to validate the new business model. What CHCanada discovered was a wealth of passionate conversation both positive and negative about the very topics (…and then some) that instigated the business change. Unlike traditional research, the comments were in social media spaces for the world to see… and remained unchalleged and unresponded. The company noticed, at the same time, the number strong advocate discussions that had gone unleveraged. What CH had realized was that a comment posted many months ago could strongly influence those who had seen the discussion for the very first time. These strong conversations could very well hamper a successful launch of the new business model. In addition, as is the plight of most Canadian subsidiaries, any strong changes implemented locally were still “blips” in the overall map and did little to positively impact the overall Columbia House brand…the US parent that still retained the original business model.

The key to ensuring a successful launch of was to provide voice in the social sphere and prove to its customers that it had truly changed before it could hope to acquire new customers. So CHCanada began engaging in conversation. We quickly identified three forums where strong discourse existed about Columbia House. The most difficult efforts included confronting its detractors. Honesty, transparency, and humility were the order of the day. Applying this strategy has allowed forum members to welcome CHCanada to the thread. By letting forum members understand what CH had done to change, and by openly asking people for their honest opinions and questions, CH has been able to eventually build trust as evidenced by the length and tenure of each thread—> all of them with a range of 700 – 1200 posts starting from as early as January 2009. Along the way, not all forum members were not so quick to welcome CHCanada with open arms. It’s not surprising they “googled” each of our names to validate who we were and what we were saying. From time to time we have been met with accusations of SPAM and have been banned from sites. But overall, our presence in key forums has made an incredible impact on CHCanada’s reputation, its organic search listings, and has resulted in ever increasing positive sentiment in favour of CHCanada vs. its US parent. This topic cloud is indicative of the positive consumer perceptions surrounding the brand.
Within a short period of time, CHCanada was able to translate its participation into strong business results. Rob Weatherall, Marketing Manager of CHCanada has indicated, “Entering into the realm of social networking I knew this was something that needed to be done but was quite skeptical what impact it would have on my business. Within a couple of months of launching our program with Isobar, I clearly saw the positive impact this media was going to have. Social networking not only provided an open line of communication with customers, it also provided a product/offer testing arena, an ever-ready focus group, a source of testimonials, and for this business – our highest value customers.”

Highest value customers –>traditionally resulting from strong customer relationship management but developed over a long period of time. Now imagine applying the same principles to social media and experiencing the same effects in half, or even a quarter of the time! Who would ever have thought that by talking to customers, marketers would be able to take out the guess-work of their initiatives or implications of their analytics reports . Ask the customers what they want and give it to them! It’s that simple. And they will come…..And they came in droves. CHCanada initiated a free-shipping promotion in September because its customers asked for it. The result: The company witnessed the highest single sales of the year, with sales equivalent to half the month of August.

And the success continues. Twtpoll surveys have become a strong crowdsourcing vehicle to gauge consumer preferences. Responses for surveys have been strong with momentum starting from the moment of posting. Social media has allowed CH Canada a very inexpensive test-and-learn vehicle for promotions. Varying test components has allowed CH to pull off another successful FREE shipping promotion of late: resulting in the second highest sales day of the year.

Rob Weatherall summed up his experience this way: “The best form of advertising is word-of-mouth – what better way to get your message out than through social networking. Without the knowledge, expertise and passion Isobar brought to the table, this business would most likely have continued to avoid, out of ignorance, what has turned out to be an extremely smart business move”.

Taking a quote from one of the fourm members, “while i haven’t ordered from chcanada in quite some time, i still frequent the thread and certainly appreciate the comments and inititiave shown by the chcanada staff. when is the last time you saw an amazon or futureshop/BB rep come in and ask us what we like? NEVER!! “
Another one says, “ I’m amazed at how much they try to make everyone happy & take in their input. They’re doing a great job at trying to get everything right.”

Mentos Campaign Proves the Value of Consumer Generated Branding

It’s becoming more commonplace to see campaigns that leverage the strength of the consumer’s viewpoint and deliver a spectacular product from a grassroots view. Mentos is among those that has succeeded in this realm.

Yonge-Dundas Square on August 13 was a scene of fun in the sun, with giant slides, gladiator challenges, and hilarious Sumo wrestling competitions. This was an adult fun park, conceived by Toronto resident, Danielle Lamarche, winner of the 2009 Mentos Campaign, “Make your World Go Rounder“.

Cossette was the agency responsible for this campaign. The premise: Make Your World Go Rounder was meant to be light-hearted and fun, and make Canadians smile by reminding them about life’s simple pleasures. According to Alison Neil of Cossette, “In the competitive and cluttered gum market we wanted to bring attention to a product feature of Mentos Gum, their roundness (the only round gum on the market), hence “make your world go rounder… we certainly consider this campaign to be non-traditional. We decided to develop an experiential/User Generated Content campaign to engage consumers, develop a dialogue with them and enhance their brand experience.”

Danielle Lamarche, who received a cash prize of $5000 summed up the day this way: “The event was extremely well received. An unbelievable amount of people came to the fun park. It was so well set up and had blow up games that even adults loved to participate in. It was steady all day and fairly long lines actually began to form after 6pm.”

Lamarche’s winning response : “Put up an Adult Fun Park in Dundas Square with blow up slides and more. We all want to be kids again!” Says Lamarche, “I really wanted to give a suggestion that would be something adults could do to let loose. I knew that it also had to the affordable and executable. It also needed to be an idea that could be Mentos Gum branded. I always watch out of the corner of my eye when kids play on the blow up toys these days and wish I was still able to do it as well. I’m sure many other adults feel that way so why not give them a chance to do it for a day?”

What does she think of the Mentos brand now? She sees a brand that tries to encourage positive thinking. “A lot of the responses that I saw were about giving to others, donations to charity, and making a mass audience happy. … People want to be happy and want to see the world become a better place. We’ve come to a time now where people are becoming much more aware of what is going on in the world and I think it’s important for brands to be aware and responsive to it.”

The campaign focus was the website: ( and but was heavily supported by out of home, transit, radio and web advertising. The latter also included social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr to support the contest, communicate the new line of products, begin developing brand loyalty, and help with Mentos Gum SEO.

The response to the contest was overwhelming. Close to 20,000 idea submissions in Canada were received.
According to Neill, “We feel that we’ve accomplished our goals of increasing brand awareness and communicating that Mentos Gum is a great, fun product that is close to consumers.”

In using consumer generated content to help fuel conversation, Neill agrees that UGC (User-generated content) works. Says Neill, especially ” when you listen to your consumers, participate in the dialogue and give back to them. We are big believers in experiential marketing at Cossette.”

The Case of the Missing Wallet: How to Use Social Media to Save the Day

I thought this was a really important article to repost on my blog and I’ve kindly asked the author, Kyra Savolainen to grant me permission to do so. If you’re still wondering about the power of social media, look no further. This one says it all. Thanks Kyra

Social Media win starts with a walk in the park

In late August, one of my most innovative clients successfully turned to social media to execute a manhunt. The man they sought was Steven Neil Crawford.

After lunching in Toronto’s Brant St Park, I returned to work holding a wallet with Steven’s name all over it.  A call to notify Toronto Police that the wallet had been found proved frustrating. So, I fired up my personal social networks in the hopes that at least one of my friends would be able to connect me with Steven. After a round of Google searches and call outs on Facebook and Twitter, a mutual acquaintance had yet to be found.

Meanwhile, Steven, a young post-production assistant at a local animation studio, was busy cancelling cards and wondering if his identity would turn up on some no-fly list in a year. He knew he had lost his wallet sometime during an exciting night out with friends, but didn’t know where. It looked like Steven might just have to pass the long weekend without his identification and other cards. (No lost wallet report was filed with Police.)

Social savvy Client to the rescue

Realizing that my own social reach wasn’t broad enough, I eyed the brand’s social media channels with hope. What better way to help establish this self-proclaimed ‘edgy and bold’ brand in the social space and prove the value of its motto based on non-conformist thought than to find Steven through its community of friends and fans online and reunite him with his property before the long weekend.

With one Tweet, the real social media rescue mission began.

“Hey Toronto, one of you lost your wallet (and I found it).  Anybody know Steven Neil Crawford?”

The brand’s friends echoed the call. Even @PepsiCanada threw in its support.

Success by numbers

The same message was posted to the official Facebook Fan Page. Results came fast, once the brand took up the cause of finding Steven. Within a day, a fan named Maria saw the call for help on Facebook and dug up a profile. It was a winner. (The requested reward? Gift cards from the brand.)

After contacting Steven and adding him as a friend on Facebook in order to verify his identity, I sat down with the eloquent youth in the same park where the wallet had been found. We chatted over a Client-sponsored lunch, touching on the lost/found/social media connection coincidence before barrelling off into more expansive, timely topics – it had been a full two days, afterall. (Aside: Who says there’s no such thing as a ‘free lunch’ or that social media is merely ephemeral hype? I pity the foo.)

In a matter of only 2 days, my client’s commitment to connecting with Canadians at the personal level clearly demonstrated the value of social media for brands and the public at large.  With just 220 Fans on Facebook and a Twitter following of less than 500 at the time of the event, Client X managed to demonstrate the true, simple value of social media to brands and the public at large.  We were personable, we were adventurous, we were helpful, and above all, we were social. And it worked. (And when I say ‘worked,’ what I really mean is ‘eat my dust, yammering display media.’)

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