Fashionably late adopters

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Emerging media can no longer be considered a new phenomenon. Innovators and early adopters have been honing their craft across multiple social media channels for several years now, haring off in new directions and creating a sense of urgency to join in the race. But what about those businesses or organizations still hesitating on the sidelines?  Is it time for them to come out of their shells, stick their necks out and catch up? Or, have they already missed the boat?

As it turns out, late adopters actually enjoy some advantages to being fashionably late.

Typically, the industries that are still cautious about establishing a social media presence are the most conservative and risk averse. They are often faced with the added pressure of regulatory or compliance restrictions. Examples include, financial services, medical institutions, legal firms and not-for-profit associations, where brand messaging has historically been controlled by a handful of authorized and highly trained professionals.  While innovators are out in front, taking risks to gain competitive advantages, late adopters hang back waiting for credible evidence of proven processes to mitigate exposure and manage risk. In effect, claims Adam Egbert, companies on the cutting edge are the guinea pigs, adopting and proving new methods and technologies. Fortunately, latecomers can leverage the experience of those that have gone before.

By virtue of its public accessibility, social media strategies are easy to observe, evaluate and even imitate. While innovators and early adopters try everything new on for size, testing, integrating, measuring and running themselves ragged, late adopters can examine these enthusiastic efforts to judge what is worthwhile in the marketing mix, and how the puzzle fits together.  The latecomers have the benefit of watching what is trending, learning what works to engage an audience on YouTube, Facebook or Pinterest. Views, shares, followers, pins and likes are openly available and very revealing. The marketing industry itself is a valuable source of insight, with experts freely discussing best practices with empirical data to support their approval or dissent. Formal analysis by highly respected organizations such as Stanford, Harvard and MIT can also assist key decision makers with the transition to becoming a social business.

Late adopters who have expressed deep skepticism or risk aversion towards social media over a period of years, will have cultural adjustments to overcome when considering a change in the course of their traditional marketing strategy. While it can take a long time to reach internal consensus and approval to join in, once the decision is made, catch-up can be implemented relatively quickly, without the extended production schedules often associated with traditional media.

If control of the conversation remains a significant concern, it makes sense to ease into the world of emerging media. Lee Schneider recommends blogging as the perfect starting point. Content is controlled by the designated author/s, and reader comments can be moderated before posting. It is easy to accurately track audience engagement and the beginning of an online brand community can be established.

The writing is on the wall that social media is here to stay, and whether that’s a Facebook wall, a Pinterest board, a blog post, or all of the above, the good news is it’s never too late to join in and catch up.

Power of pictures: The eyes have it

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Stop you in your tracks photographs
– you know the ones: the infinity pool perched on the edge of a cliff in Greece; the romantic plantation-style inn with rocking chairs waiting on the porch; or the signature golf hole with greens as smooth as velvet.

These are the pictures you used to tear out of a magazine and save in a Places to Visit file. Now, chances are, you pin to a wish-list board on Pinterest, loaded with your personal vacation fantasies. Although some photo destinations may remain out of reach, no doubt others will influence actual bookings for trips.  A survey by eMarketer indicates that 32% of customers have made a purchase after seeing an image on a social image-sharing website, and 26% were able to click through from the image to make their purchases.

Images, particularly quality photographs, are a magnetic force in content marketing, and drive social media activity. It is vital for businesses to show, not tell, as visual content sites are fueling demand for inspiring photography and sensational images. A marketer’s overriding mantra that “content is king” has met its match with the new maxim “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

A study conducted in 2012 by ROI Research found that users engaged on social media sites enjoy pictures the most and 42% of respondents are more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures.

Images are a form of shorthand for communicating with consumers. Online audiences feel increasingly overwhelmed by the volume of information on social media these days, so it helps that photos are visually processed almost instantly, even faster than reading a post or a tweet.

Make sure you develop a tailored image strategy within your content marketing plan. Yes, stock images are useful and tweeting Instagram pictures can be part of your strategy – there is a legitimate place for behind-the-scenes updates communicated with the immediacy of this visual communication channel – but these sources will only take you so far. Part of your plan should include a realistic budget for professional photo shoots. Top quality professional photography adds authority and legitimacy to a brand. Studies have shown that over 45% of people say a website’s design is the number one criterion for discerning the credibility of a company, and much of the strength of web design hinges on populating a site with strong image content.

Based on experience, I would urge you to match the skill set of the photographer with the subject of the shoot. Some professionals excel at managing the demands of architectural photography, and can magically transform a dull, concrete facade into a building that exudes warmth and elegance. These guys know every angle and can add visual square footage to interior spaces, bouncing light off every surface to make a room positively glow. Other photographers are experts at shooting lifestyle images with models, making intangible emotions tangible and validating the aspirational nature of a brand.  Certain photographers even specialize within a very narrow subject niche, such as golf course panoramas or food photography.

Don’t just hire a great photographer, hire the right photographer. Make sure to allocate your marketing budget accordingly, and be confident that quality photography is an excellent investment in social media success.

Consumer as Chief Marketing Officer

WOM

Word of mouth (WOM) has always influenced consumer decision-making. Receiving the personal advice, recommendations, and suggestions of friends, family, and acquaintances before making a purchase is both reassuring and validating.

Need a new camera? Ask the brother-in-law that’s a shutter bug.  A new car? Dad always has sound advice about automobiles.  Great restaurant? A foodie friend is the go-to expert.

Emerging media has expanded word of mouth influence to include the objective and subjective opinions of ANYONE choosing to share their experiences electronically – hence the term, eWOM.  Reading multiple five-star reviews, contributed by strangers across the globe, is now as likely to influence that camera purchase as a brother-in-law’s recommendation. If poor ratings in review sites such as Yelp or Urbanspoon contradict a friend’s restaurant suggestion, reservations will likely be made elsewhere.

Social networking has completely transformed how consumers interact with a brand.  What people have to say about a brand is now as important as whatever the brand has to say about itself. Consumers, en masse, are eager to share the role of Chief Marketing Officer. Of course, this challenges corporate traditions. The comfort zone of a top-down, tightly controlled commercial communication model is now outdated; businesses need to adopt open, equal, interactive dialogues within online brand communities.

A new research study quantifies the influence of word of mouth marketing (both WOM and eWOM combined):

  • 10 – 54% of the marketing impact for a brand is delivered through word of mouth, suggesting this is a key element of the consumer decision-making journey.
  • Word of mouth can drive nearly as much organic search as traditional marketing activities on their own, when marketing activities are also present.
  • A 10% increase in word of mouth resulted in sales lift of 0.2% – 1.5%.

Both WOM and eWOM, play a significant role in the consumer decision journey, acting as an amplifier of all marketing activities. Marketers need to account for the pathways through which word of mouth plays an intermediary step in the journey between marketing exposure and financial results. Analyzing the overall impact on marketing will help determine optimal budget allocations.

The speed of diffusion. reach, persistence and interactivity of eWOM is both intimidating and challenging to manage operationally. Companies have less control over WOM and eWOM strategies, as the way communication spreads among consumers is more random than in advertising. Authentic, responsive and transparent communication with consumers is vital. Creating a strong brand community through regular communications inspires loyalty and motivates satisfied customers to defend a brand against negative eWOM. The tone and language used in communications must be personal and relatable emulating a real online conversation. Responding to unsatisfied customers demonstrates responsiveness and limits the potential for further dissemination of negative reviews as a form of consumer revenge.

The following corporate responses from the Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco on Trip Advisor and Nike Support on Facebook, demonstrate responsiveness to eWOM in a brand-appropriate voice:

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There is no room for smoke and mirrors in today’s socially net-worked world. Corporations can connect directly, in near real-time, with customers whether locally, nationally or internationally, building and enhancing customer relationships.

In 2013 and beyond, word-of-mouth marketing is not just “nice to have,” but is a game-changing element of today’s marketing mix.

Luxury brands and emerging media

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By it’s very definition, social media is the darling of the masses. Can luxury brands mix new technology with tradition while maintaining the aura of exclusivity necessary to appeal to affluent consumers? Is there a way to reconcile the sophisticated ambiance of a bricks and mortar luxury retail or service environment with the persistence of communications required to gain market share via social media?

Yes. But developing the social media presence of a luxury brand requires a thoughtful extension of that brand’s online presence, consistent with the existing real-life brand experience.

A new Social Media Guide by Abrams Research, which specifically addresses the luxury market, recommends:

  • Looking at each social media platform independently rather than repurposing existing digital assets.
  • Considering each platform as an opportunity to fill a new or different need in digital the space.
  • Focusing on quality content rather than quantity.
  • Communicating visually with instantly appealing images.

The aspirational nature of luxury brands can be harnessed if sharing is approached in the right way. Customers are often eager to share their association with luxury products, but require the tools to do so. Like attracts like. Leveraging the passion, interest and connectivity of a brand’s supporters establishes connections to more affluent consumers. Social media enables customers and fans to share the value and experiences they derive from their luxury purchases in digital as well as physical spaces.

Constructing a narrative for a luxury brand that ties into the narrative customers have created about themselves is key.

A purse doesn’t qualify as a luxury item because it costs $4,000; it qualifies as a luxury item because its calfskin leather, imported all the way from Valencia, has been hand-treated using a process that has been kept as a family secret for six generations, features 22 karat white gold clasps, and maybe most importantly because it was mentioned favorably by a friend or celebrity on social media.

There is no one-size fits all approach, each luxury brand must carefully examine its core identity and commit time and resources to bringing their optimum social media campaign to life.

A fine example is provided by women’s designer, Tory Burch. In addition to an active brand presence on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, the Tory Blog is rich with content on style, culture, travel, entertaining, music and expert advice tailored to the Tory Burch woman.   The copy and design rival any traditional high-end fashion magazine. and the content is not focused on selling but on building a lifestyle brand that speaks to the consumer like a trusted friend. Tory Burch herself contributes posts and publishes personal photos that make her accessible to consumers who identify with her.

Tory Burch luxury brand blog

In the luxury travel industry, Four Seasons, is an example of a hotelier that has embraced social media. The company’s corporate Twitter account interacts globally with all customers and individual properties are equipped with their own Twitter account that acts as a concierge service for guests who may have questions about that specific hotel or the surrounding area. The authentic rapport with guests is excellent as you can read in the Twitter exchange below:

Four Seasons Twitter Account Exchange

Four Seasons is equally as engaging on Facebook, pushing awareness of what’s happening at their properties to people using both organic and paid strategies. What is the payoff? Almost half (48%) of Facebook users become fans of pages because their friends are.

Social media offers luxury brands an unprecedented opportunity to provide exemplary customer service to their clientele, connecting in a way that is immediate and powerful. Luxury brands must commit to being honest, receptive and communicative with their customers and respond promptly 24/7. Customer service is not just fighting fires; social media can educate and enrich a customer’s experience with a brand if staff are trained and equipped to be both creative and proactive.

Affluent customers crave special attention from their favorite brands through both traditional and, increasingly, non-traditional channels. Marketers need to emphasize status and lifestyle through compelling digital storytelling, effectively intertwining product browsing with content and imagery so that visitors become immersed in the brand world.  In this way, marketers can realize the potential for social media to help build a strong brand community of loyalists, new customers and aspirational fans.