You don't need a social media strategy

"You don't need a social media strategy - you need a brand strategy that leverages social media. Don't get off the brand strategy just because there's a new communications channel, that's how you lose the plot as a brand. Technology is the tail, not the dog." (Chris Kirubi, Chairman of Coca Cola Nairobi via Tim Sanders).

This quote made my day today. Not just beacuse I agree - we always like to know that our own brilliant thinking is shared by others - but also because I've seen the shiny objects syndrome at play only too many times. We get so caught up by new possibilities and 'so ein ding müssen wir auch haben' that we take our eyes off the ball; this tendency is particularly prevalent when it comes to new technology, media and communications vehicles.

When I was European digital director at Levi's I would, among many things, work closely with the country marketing teams to plan and execute digital programs. I was met time and time again with all sorts of ideas from the teams on new stuff/things/apps/widgets/gadgets etc that somebody - often a local agency - had suggested.
While I really appreciated the creativity, my main role in these conversations quickly came to be Chief Sense-Making Officer, ie challenging them to test the ideas and their validity against the digital brand strategy - which of course was in place to support the overall brand strategy.
At some point, I developed a simple litmus test tool for the teams called 'Testing Your Idea', with the sentiment that all good marketing starts with an idea, however, not all ideas make for good marketing and with the purpose of encouraging strategic thinking. (I think I'll post this tool in a blog post soon, it's still pretty good!)

Anyway, as the digital protagonist in the company I was somehow expected to jump at and promote any new tech thingy that would pop out of the blue and often the teams just didn't get why I was so, in their eyes, conservative.
And this is why I love Chris Kirubi's quote above. Because it isn't about all the new shiny objects. It's about sticking to the brand strategy, having the courage to do so in the flurry of all things new, clever, cute and seductive, and having the judgement to filter out what isn't relevant and to frame within your strategy what is.
And btw, I'm not saying that social media isn't important, it's extremely important. But first and foremost the importance for a brand lies in finding the relevant and sustainable way to make use of it, whether for communications, research or other purposes.

Tim Sanders himself says it brilliantly: 'Don't let social media glam you out, causing you to waste time and money on keeping up. Confirm your brand promise and how you fulfill it, and find ways that social media can complement it. It's about being human, not techy.'

Attention all media folks

Brilliant article in Harvard Business Review, Branding In the Digital Age, on the new and necessary approach to media spend and paid vs owned vs earned media, among many many interesting things.
All media folks should read this. Brand and marketing folks may knock themselves out, too.

Steve Jobs' way of handling customer relations

What other CEO than Steve Jobs has a whole presumably 3rd party website dedicated to divulging and scrutinizing his emails to Apple customers?
Pls find an excellent analysis of Jobs' customer email approach on one of the Harvard Business Review blogs here.


Brand-bonding is the new brand-building. Where 'building' is a one-way thing, something the brand does on its own and for its own sake, 'bonding' denotes a relationship that involves participation from both parties and for the good of both parties.

And no, don't mistake bonding for bondage - that's exactly what we do not want to do. It's tempting to tie our customers as closely to our brand as possible, I know. Like telcos. Like where customers can't break the ties to the brand no matter how hard they try.

Rather, continuously give customers a good reason or better yet, several good reasons to stay with the brand out of their heart's content and bond with the brand over time. There's nothing more important than to be human, and that goes for brands too.

Music and Branding #7

This is a translation of the column I'm writing for Danish industry publication Markedsføring (Marketing). Music and Branding deals with the trinity of brands, bands, and fans. It looks at how brands use (or don't use) music as part of their brand building efforts and how bands collaborate with brands. 
This column (# 7) was published in issue #15 out Dec 14th, 2010 and focuses on brand and artist associations. Please find links to the first six columns at the bottom.

In the previous column we examined one of the major barriers to a more strategic approach to music as brand building tool. The one about the difficulty of parking one's personal opinions outside the office door when it comes to the selection of music.
When we use music in the brand building, we need to take brand essence and brand values into consideration as well as target audience and context, make sure that there is a level of congruence and in general base our decisions on actual insights about all of this.
In this column we'll take a closer look at the results of a study that was carried out in the UK on exactly these matters.

The purpose and methodology of the study
In 2007, Millward Brown, Mindshare, MEC:Access, Ogilvy Action, and Hill & Knowlton decided to analyse a range of artists, genres, brands, and target audiences in order to improve the advice they'd give their clients on music sponsorships and properties. And, I suppose, also to influence their clients to think a bit more coherently and strategically about these things.
Now, this column is about music and brand building in general, not sponsorships specifically, but just the same I think we can gain interesting insights from reflecting a bit on the results.
The agencies carried out the study in 2007 among 10,000 people in the UK. They looked at the values associated with certain genres, key music events, and artists. Then they matched the data with select brands as illustrative examples.
Let's take a look at what they found. The following is taken from the study.

Brand and artist associations
Coldplay fans like movies and a socially/environmentally responsible attitude; this reflects front-man Chris Martin's own stand points. They like fair trade and will compromise in order to support the cause. They expect their brands to do the same.
Madonna fans are interested in designer fashion, believe that money is the measure for success, and aren't too concerned about the environment.
Starbucks customers like indie, R&B, and soul music. They have an expensive taste and appreciate inspiration from other cultures and life styles than their own.
Apple customers generally are more occupied with music than PC customers and tend to think of themselves as protagonists of good taste. They are concerned with how they dress and think it's important to present oneself as attractive as possible to the opposite sex.
Music taste and beverage preferences are also closely knit: Heavy metal fans prefer Coca-Cola to Pepsi. The indie folks, on the other hand and especially those who like Coldplay, go for Pepsi. Dance and club peeps don't really care, they go for either.
And folks who are 3 customers are more into music in general and more into dance/electronica specifically than O2 customers. Reversely, O2 customers are bigger fans of Eurovision Song Contest than any other telco customers. How about that!

Ineffective and effective collaborations
The study also looked at select brand/artist collaborations and whether they worked out well. Here's a couple of them:
  • Justin Timberlake got $ 6M in 2003 from McDonald's to promote the tagline 'I'm Lovin' It'. Unfortunately the crowd didn't love the collaboration at all, despite the seemingly shared youthful, energetic and broad appeal. The athletic Timberlake was not considered a credible McDonald's fan, his fans felt he was being downgraded and McDonald's brand image didn't improve either.
  • Rolling Stones have on several occasions agreed to lucrative tour sponsorships from big league brands like T-Mobile. Some Stones fans find that the band focuses too much on profit, as they aren't showing any interest in, goodwill towards or shared values with the brands they make deals with.
  • Take That worked with Marks & Spencer on their 2006 come-back tour where they posed as models in M&S campaigns and openly thanked the retailer at their gigs. This was very well received by the fans.
  • Paul McCartney's collaboration with Starbucks from 2007 onwards means that Starbucks operates as McCartney's record label. Indeed, some McCartney fans didn't approve, nevertheless his first album with Starbucks, 'Memory Almost Full' from that year, entered the Billboard top 200 at #3.
So, what can we learn from all this? That we cannot take much for granted; that what might seem obvious and right isn't always; that we can't just follow our gut instinct; and that we need to deeply understand not only our brand but also the reactions of the target audience before we start using music for brand building purposes.

Previous columns:
Music and Branding #1
Music and Branding #2
Music and Branding #3
Music and Branding #4
Music and Branding #5
Music and Branding #6