Archive for the ‘branding’ category


Baojun doesn’t scream ‘premium’ and ‘next-gen tech’ to me

10.10.2019

I have to agree with Yang Jian, managing editor of Automotive News China, that Baojun’s new models ‘obviously’ failed to reverse the brand’s sales’ decline.
   It is obvious given that the vehicles are priced considerably above the previous ones, and despite its next-gen tech, there’s no real alignment with what Baojun stands for.
   There might be a new logo (débuted January 2019) but GM expects that this, the new premium products, and (I would expect) other retail updates would undo nearly nine years of brand equity.
   The associations of Baojun as an entry-level brand run deeply, and the new models are like, if you’ll pardon the analogy and the use of another car group, taking the next Audis and sticking a Škoda badge on them. Except even stylistically, the new Baojuns bear little resemblance to the old ones—they’re that radical a departure.
   I wonder if it would be wiser to keep Baojun exactly where it was, and let it decline, while launching the new models under a more upscale GM brand, even one perceived as ‘foreign’ or ‘joint venture’ by Chinese consumers.
   DaimlerChrysler made the mistake of killing Plymouth when it was surplus to requirements, then found itself without a budget brand when the late 2000s’ recession hit. Chrysler, once the upper-middle marque, had to fill the void.
   There’s a reason companies like GM and Volkswagen have brands spanning the market: they feed buyers into the corporation, and there’s something for everyone.
   And while it’s possible to move brands upscale, creating four lines where the base model prices exceed the highest price you have ever charged for your other base models is just too sudden a shift.

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CSR is already woven into Māori leadership

23.04.2019

I was fascinated to read a New Zealand Herald story on the Māori asset base, though it wasn’t the financial part that hit me. What was more significant were the principles behind Māori businesses.
   About 15 years ago, when chatting to a woman representing a Māori winery, I said that she had an amazing opportunity to show that Māori were far ahead of the game when it came to corporate social responsibility, something that was close to my heart with my work for Medinge Group. It’s interesting to see that that impression I had in the mid-2000s wasn’t wrong, and is now backed up by Dr Maree Roche of Waikato University.
   She identifies five values behind Māori leadership, which blends their needs to support marginalized communities, kaupapa, and contemporary influences.
   The values are:

  • whakaiti (humility): the leader enables others but doesn’t take credit themselves;
  • ko tau rourou and manaakitanga (altruism): ensuring the well-being of others and the generosity of spirit;
  • whanaungatanga (others): collectivism and relationships with past, present and future generations;
  • tāria te wā and kaitiakitanga (long-term thinking and guardianship);
  • tikanga Māori (cultural authenticity).

   You’ll recognize a lot of the same words used in much of Medinge’s work on humanistic branding: the need for serving communities; to consider far more than the immediate quarter (‘finance is broken’); and being authentic.
   Māori may find themselves better equipped with their newer organizations to weave in a message about CSR, considering the successful ones already practise it for their own people. Translating that in an export market, for instance, to serving a cause that is of concern to that market, should be comparatively easier than for a company so entrenched in delivering quarterly results to shareholders. Promoting ties between tangata whenua and the export market could be of interest, especially in Asia where many of the same ideas about family, whānau and community are shared. They are in an advantageous position and those of us in New Zealand would be foolish to ignore it.

Originally published at the Medinge Group blog.

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More Facebook lies in its ad preferences’ manager?

21.04.2019

As I’ve often said, it’s wise to keep an eye on your Facebook ad preferences’ page. Even if you’ve opted out of Facebook targeting, Facebook will still keep compiling information on you. I see no other purpose for this other than to target you with advertising, contrary to what you expect.
   Facebook also tells you which companies have uploaded their marketing lists to them, and this has been very interesting reading. A load of US politicians whom I have never heard of somehow have this information, and today’s crop is no different.

   I’ve written to Old Mout Cider, which I was surprised to find is part of the Dutch conglomerate Heineken NV, and await an answer, but the biggie here has to be Über.
   Many years ago, I tried the app but could never get it to work. Neither could my partner. Then we started hearing from Susan Fowler and Pando Daily, and that helped confirm that we would never support the company.
   Basically, Über would never let me log in, saying I had exhausted my password attempts after the grand total of one, despite sending a password reset link. My partner could log in but we could never figure anything out beyond that (it had credit card details she had never entered and said we lived next door).
   Concerned about this, I went to Über’s website to request deletion of my personal details, but this was the screen I got.

   Now, either Big Tech One is lying or Big Tech Two is lying.
   To its credit, Über New Zealand responded very quickly on Twitter (on Good Friday, no less) and said it would look into it. Within minutes it was able to confirm that I do not have an account there (presumably it was deleted with a lack of use, or maybe I went and did it back when they wouldn’t let me log in?) and my email address doesn’t appear anywhere.
   Therefore, we can likely again conclude that Facebook lies and we have to bring into question its advertising preferences’ management page.
   We already know Facebook has lied to advertisers about the number of people it can reach (namely that it exceeds the number of people alive in certain demographics), that there is a discrepancy between what it reports in the preferences and what a full download of personal data reveals, so I have to wonder what the deception is here.
   Is it allowing these advertisers to reach us even when (as Über claims) they have no information on us? (Heineken’s response will seal the deal when they get back to me after Easter.) In that case, it will be very hard for Facebook to argue that we have given them consent to do this.
   Heineken, incidentally, is a major advertiser on Instagram, as I see their advertisements even after opting out of all alcohol advertising on the Facebook ad preferences’ page (as instructed by Instagram). When we establish contact next week, I will be more than happy to tell them this. Who knows? While I doubt they will cease advertising on the platforms on my say-so, sometimes you have to plant the seed so that they are aware their ads are not being filtered out from those people who do not want to see booze promoted in their feeds.

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Autocade turns 11 as the web turns 30

12.03.2019


The latest model to appear on Autocade today: the Mazda CX-30.

It’s March, which means Autocade has had another birthday. Eleven years ago, I started a car encyclopædia using Mediawiki software, and it’s since grown to 3,600 model entries. The story has been told elsewhere on this blog. What I hadn’t realized till today was that Autocade’s birthday and the World Wide Web’s take place within days of each other.
   The inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, still believes that it can be used as a force for good, which is what many of us hoped for when we began surfing in the 1990s. I still remember using Netscape 1·2 (actually, I even remember using 1·1 on computers that hadn’t updated to the newer browser) and thinking that here was a global communications’ network that could bring us all together.
   Autocade, and, of course, Lucire, were both set up to do good, and be a useful information resource to the public. Neither sought to divide in the way Facebook has; Google, which had so much promise in the late 1990s, has become a bias-confirmation machine that also pits ideologies against each other.
   The web, which turns 30 this week, still has the capacity to do great things, and I can only hope that those of us still prepared to serve the many rather than the few in a positive way begin getting recognized for our efforts again.
   For so many years I have championed transparency and integrity. People tell us that these are qualities they want. Yet people also tell surveys that Google is their second-favourite brand in the world, despite its endless betrayals of our trust, only apologizing after each privacy gaffe is exposed by the fourth estate.
   Like Sir Tim, I hope we make it our business to seek out those who unite rather than divide, and give them some of our attention. At the very least I hope we do this out of our own self-preservation, understanding that we have more to gain by allowing information to flow and people to connect. When we shut ourselves off to opposing viewpoints, we are poorer for it. As I wrote before, American conservatives and liberals have common enemies in Big Tech censorship and big corporations practising tax avoidance, yet social networks highlight the squabbles between one right-wing philosophy and another right-wing philosophy. We New Zealanders cannot be smug with our largest two parties both eager to plunge forward into TPPA, and our present government having us bicker over capital gains’ tax while leaving the big multinationals, who profit off New Zealanders greatly, paying little or no tax.
   A more understanding dialogue, which the web actually affords us, is the first step in identifying what we have in common, and once you strip away the arguments that mainstream media and others drive, our differences are far fewer than we think.
   Social media should be social rather than antisocial, and it’s almost Orwellian that they have this Newspeak name, doing the opposite to what their appellation suggests. The cat is out of the bag as far as Big Tech is concerned, but there are opportunities for smaller players to be places where people can chat. Shame it’s not Gab, which has taken a US-conservative bent at the expense of everything else, though they at least should be applauded for taking a stance against censorship. And my fear is that we will take what we have already learned on social media—to divide and to pile on those who disagree—into any new service. As I mentioned, Mastodon is presently fine, for the most part, because educated people are chatting among themselves. The less educated we are, the more likely we will take firm sides and shut our minds off to alternatives.
   The answer is education: to make sure that we use this wonderful invention that Sir Tim has given us for free for some collective good. Perhaps this should form part of our children’s education in the 2010s and 2020s. That global dialogue can only be a good thing because we learn and grow together. And that there are pitfalls behind the biggest brands kids are already exposed to—we know Google has school suites but they really need to know how the big G operates, as it actively finds ways to undermine their privacy.
   The better armed our kids are, the more quickly they’ll see through the fog. The young people I know aren’t even on Facebook other than its Messenger service. It brings me hope; but ideally I’d like to see them make a conscious effort to choose their own services. Practise what we preach about favouring brands with authenticity, even if so many of us fail to seek them out ourselves.

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Keeping the Victoria in Victoria University of Wellington

08.08.2018

 

A letter I penned today to Prof Grant Guilford, Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington. I support the official adoption of a Māori name (I thought it had one?) but removing Victoria is daft, for numerous reasons, not least the University’s flawed research, dealt with elsewhere.

Wellington, August 8, 2018

Prof Grant Guilford
Vice-Chancellor
Victoria University of Wellington
PO Box 600
Wellington 6011
New Zealand
 

Dear Prof Guilford:

Re. Name change for Victoria University of Wellington

There have been many arguments against why Victoria University of Wellington should change its name. Count me in as endorsing the views of Mr Geoff McLay, whose feedback the University has already received.
   To his comments, I would like to add several more.
   First, since I graduated from Vic for the fourth time in 2000, branding—a subject I have an above-average knowledge of, being the co-chair of the Swedish think tank Medinge Group and with books and academic articles to my name—has become a more bottom-up affair. In lay terms, all successful brands need their community’s support to thrive. Not engaging that community properly, and putting forth unconvincing arguments for change when asked, fails ‘Branding 101’ by today’s standards. I don’t believe those of us favouring the status quo are a minority. We’re simply the ones who have engaged with the University.
   As an alumnus, I have a great deal of pride in ‘Vic’, so much so that I have returned to support many of its programmes, namely Alumni as Mentors and the BA Internships. The University’s view of market-place confusion is, to my mind, a defeatist position, one which says, ‘Oh, there’s confusion, so let’s cede our position to the others who lay claim to “Victoria”.’ That’s not the attitude that I have toward our fine university.
   The alternative is to stand firm and build the brand on a global scale, something that is more than possible if the University were to adopt some lessons from international marketing and branding.
   I have done it numerous times professionally, and for New Zealand companies with strictly limited budgets, and the University has an enviable and proud network of alumni who, I suspect, are willing to help.
   Vic has told us for years it is ‘world-class’, and I expect it to stand by those claims—including confidence in its own name, not unlike the great universities in the US and UK. A lot of it is in the way the brand is positioned. Confidence goes a long way, including confidence in saying, ‘This is the real Victoria.’
   Kiwis are adept at being more authentic, something which a strong branding campaign would highlight.
   As alumnus, and fellow St Mark’s old boy, Callum Osborne notes, if there is to be a geographic qualifier, New Zealand has far more brand equity than Wellington, so if a change is to occur, then ‘Victoria University of New Zealand’ is an appropriate way forward.
   ‘University of Wellington’ says little, and there are Wellingtons elsewhere, too.
   This isn’t about apeing others, but being so distinct in the way the University communicates, symbolizes and differentiates itself to all of its audiences. To be fair, I have only seen pockets of that since graduating, yet I believe it is possible, and it can be unlocked.
 

Yours respectfully,
 

Jack Yan, LL B, BCA (Hons.), MCA

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The founder’s image is tied to the business—or, why Elon Musk shouldn’t call someone a pædophile

16.07.2018

I have often said that each new technology often goes downhill when unsavoury parts of our society get to it. Email was fine before spammers, Wikipedia was fine without sociopaths, Blogger was fine without Google ownership, and Google was fine without an NYSE listing.
   But what does one make of Twitter? Once upon a time, it was a decent place to hang out. Ask Stephen Fry.
   Today, however, with all sorts of people on it, the post-spammer, post-sociopath stage appears to be: watch the rich lose it.
   Those who don’t like President Trump might think I’m thinking of him, but it was actually Elon Musk, whose efforts on so many fronts I have publicly admired, who seems to be the latest in turning his corner of Twitter into an angry man’s rant record.
   Not long ago, I saw Musk argue with a Tweeter about economics and blocking him. Of course it’s everyone’s prerogative to block as they see fit, but I always remember what my parents told me when I was a child: the really powerful see the big picture. They don’t sweat the small stuff. And this seems like someone sweating the small stuff. Even if he is the 53rd richest person in the world.
   From Techcrunch (hat tip to Adeline Chua):

There’s more on that story here.
   Quoting Adeline:

   I’m not sure what Musk intends with all of these Tweets, but I’m losing respect for the man. He probably wouldn’t care what I think, but then, going on the earlier Tweets, he probably does.
   As someone who leads a much, much smaller bunch of companies, I know the boss’s public statements do impact on the rest of the team, and how your firm’s perceived.
   If we look at the rich, Sir Richard Branson is a great ambassador for his ventures and is careful about what he says. His brands are tied in with his personal image, and he’s well aware of that. Elon Musk is not an exception: his personality and announcements are keeping Tesla’s faithful invested in the brand, for instance.
   On the one hand, it’s great that Twitter is a great leveller. But with that comes other risks. If it is a leveller, bringing everyone to the level of the village merchant, then we can make a choice about whom we deal with.
   In a real-life village, when we walk round, we may choose to buy from certain people and not others, because of how we’re treated or what their reputation’s like.
   In this virtual village, we have one of the wealthiest players ranting in the corner.
   And therein lies the risk for Tesla and SpaceX. Maybe he’s so confident at his lead that, with or without him, his dreams can come true. It would be great if we did have more electric cars and more affordable space exploration. However, while the founder is still young, alive and kicking, I’m afraid these ventures are still very much tied to how we perceive him. I’m not sure that being a rich, angry Tweeter who calls a rescuer a ‘pedo’ is the image that a Tesla buyer, for instance, wants to be associated with.
   Frankly, if we’re going to remember anyone in the whole Thai cave rescue, let it be Saman Kunan, the former Thai navy SEAL diver who lost his life.

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If FCA kills Chrysler today, then it’s another chapter of a company weakening its brands

01.06.2018

There’s a rumour circulating that Fiat (specifically, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, or FCA) will kill the Chrysler marque today.
   The range currently consists of two models: the ageing 300 and the relatively fresh Pacifica.
   It seems to be another step in the mismanagement of car marques, especially US ones, something I wrote about many years ago when Condé Nast Portfolio was still running. (Note: it was a published letter to the editor, not an article.)
   Marques do disappear, but when the wrong ones get killed off, long-term it leaves the company in a weaker state.
   DaimlerChrysler found that out in the early 2000s when it decided Plymouth was surplus to requirements. Suddenly, its entry-level budget brand was gone—a very bad move when the recession hit later that decade. Plymouth had been conceived as a low-priced line that kept Chrysler afloat during the Depression.
   DaimlerChrysler then found itself having to sell Plymouth products under the Chrysler marque, which was traditionally the priciest between Plymouth, Dodge and Chrysler.
   Today’s Chrysler resembles, at least in market ambition, the one of old, where it offers reasonably good quality vehicles, with Plymouth a distant memory.
   It also offers Fiat a relatively premium brand in the US market. It’s not Jeep, Ram or Dodge, all of which have very different brands, messages and brand equity.
   The fact it is light on product could have been solved long ago if Fiat had adopted the sort of platform-sharing that is now commonplace in the car world—you only have to look at Volkswagen and the Renault–Nissan Alliance, now Renault Nissan Mitsubishi. Even Jaguar Land Rover is realizing economies of scale with Jaguar SUVs and a car-like Range Rover (the Velar).
   While Chrysler found that the 200 had flopped, there was always room for a premium, American SUV to take over from the Aspen, for example. If Jeep can build SUVs on Punto and Giulietta platforms, why couldn’t Chrysler, aimed at very different buyers?
   The truth is that Fiat has a very confusing platform strategy, something I alluded to in earlier posts both here and in Drivetribe, and there appear to be no signs of bringing any harmony to the mess.
   The firm hasn’t been properly merged, and not enough thought has been given to reducing platforms, and sharing them between marques. There’s more in common on this front between Fiat and British Leyland than between Fiat and Volkswagen, which it once vied with to be Europe’s number-one.
   The domestic range has cars on platforms shared with Ford, Chrysler and GM, not to mention OEM vehicles from Mazda, Mitsubishi and Peugeot. I might not love SUVs, but the public does, and the Fiat range is light on them. There’s not enough of a global effort, either: the Ottimo and Viaggio are Italian-styled, based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta (or more specifically the Dodge Dart), and they are only sold in China—a ridiculous situation when Fiat doesn’t have a CD-segment saloon in any other market. The rationalization of the range in South America has helped, with the Argo and Cronos streamlining a confusing array of Palio, Linea, Siena and Grand Siena models, but they bear little resemblance to the models on offer in Europe.
   Lancia, which had benefited from Fiat platforms, is practically dead, its 500-based, Polish-made Ypsilon being deleted this year. As models at Lancia died out, they were not replaced. Yet things could have been so much better, had Fiat allowed Lancia the sort of freedom it needed to sell Italian luxury and innovation. Those values are different from Alfa Romeo’s, yet through its conduct, Fiat seems to think that if Alfa and Lancia have similar prices, then they must vie for similar buyers. They never did. It seems to believe that costs will be saved through axing marques and model lines, which can be true in some cases—but those cases tend to presume that what remains, or what replaces them, is stronger.
   I’m not being a Luddite or pining for the “good old days” when it comes to Chrysler. I hold no romantic notions for the brand. But I do know that once they’re gone, the firm doesn’t necessarily find its resources are freed up to pursue surviving lines. It finds that it’s lost a segment that it once fielded.
   It’s sadder to realize that Chrysler, as a group, was much stronger in the early 1990s, with record development times and good platform-sharing. Plymouth was in the process of developing its own identity—the PT Cruiser and Prowler heralded a new retromodern design language that was to spread throughout the range, while utilizing the same platforms as Chryslers and Dodges.
   Fiat itself, too, was a strong company at this same period, riding high on great styling, with a reinvigorated line-up. Think Bravo, Brava, Barchetta, Coupé Fiat, 456, Quattroporte, Delta, Dedra, Kappa, 145, 146, GTV and Spider. A lot of these vehicles were talked-about, and considered some of the most stylish in Europe.
   Last year, in Europe, luxury marques Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi all outsold Fiat, supposedly a mass-market brand. Its market share in Italy and Brazil, traditionally places where it was strong, has continued to dip.
   In the US, it’s the same story, with Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi all outselling Chrysler both last year and year-to-date.
   It’s all very romantic, and good press, to show off premium Alfa Romeos and Maseratis, or money-making Jeeps, but many of these models don’t donate any of their architecture to Fiat’s troubled brands.
   In 2018, when you see that certain Fiat marques aren’t getting access to platforms, you have to wonder why—especially when so many other big players don’t place such restrictions on their brands.
   A new 500 and Panda might be around the corner, but we’ll need to see far more logic applied to the business, especially with Alfa’s Mito and Giulietta looking more dated, Fiat’s range in a mess, and Chrysler barely making an effort in China, a market where its sort of positioning would have attracted luxury-conscious buyers who might prefer foreign brands, such as Buick.
   Even if Chrysler gets a stay of execution, Sergio Marchionne’s successor will have a very tough job ahead.

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Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: the signs were there for years, if one only looked

20.03.2018

Facebook’s woes over Cambridge Analytica have only prompted one reaction from me: I told you so. While I never seized upon this example, bravely revealed to us by whistleblower Christopher Wylie and reported by Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison of The Guardian, Facebook has shown itself to be callous about private data, mining preferences even after users have opted out, as I have proved on more than one occasion on this blog. They don’t care what your preferences are, and for a long time changed them quietly when you weren’t looking.
   And it’s nothing new: in October 2010, Emily Steel wrote, in The Wall Street Journal, about a data firm called Rapleaf that harvested Facebook information to target political advertisements (hat tip here to Jack Martin Leith).
   Facebook knew of a data breach years ago and failed to report it as required under law. The firm never acts, as we have seen, when everyday people complain. It only acts when it faces potential bad press, such as finally ceasing, after nearly five years, its forced malware downloads after I tipped off Wired’s Louise Matsakis about them earlier this year. Soon after Louise’s article went live, the malware downloads ceased.
   Like all these problems, if the stick isn’t big enough, Facebook will just hope things go away, or complain, as it did today, that it’s the victim. Sorry, you’re not. You’ve been complicit more than once, and violating user privacy, as I have charged on this blog many times, is part of your business practice.
   In this environment, I am also not surprised that US$37,000 million has been wiped off Facebook’s value and CEO Mark Zuckerberg saw his net worth decline by US$5,000 million.
   Those who kept buying Facebook shares, I would argue, were unreasonably optimistic. The writing surely was on the wall in January at the very latest (though I would have said it was much earlier myself), when I wrote, ‘All these things should have been sending signals to the investor community a long time ago, and as we’ve discussed at Medinge Group for many years, companies would be more accurately valued if we examined their contribution to humanity, and measuring the ingredients of branding and relationships with people. Sooner or later, the truth will out, and finance will follow what brand already knew. Facebook’s record on this front, especially when you consider how we at Medinge value brands and a company’s promise-keeping, has been astonishingly poor. People do not trust Facebook, and in my book: no trust means poor brand equity.’
   This sounds like my going back to my very first Medinge meeting in 2002, when we concluded, at the end of the conference, three simple words: ‘Finance is broken.’ It’s not a useful measure of a company, certainly not the human relationships that exist within. But brand has been giving us this heads-up for a long time: if you can’t trust a company, then it follows that its brand equity is reduced. That means its overall value is reduced. And time after time, finance follows what brand already knew. Even those who tolerate dishonesty—and millions do—will find it easy to depart from a product or service along with the rest of the mob. There’s less and less for them to justify staying with it. The reasons get worn down one by one: I’m here because of my kids—till the kids depart; I’m here because of my friends—till the friends depart. If you don’t create transparency, you risk someone knocking back the wall.
   We always knew Facebook’s user numbers were bogus, considering how many bots there are on the system. It would be more when people wanted to buy advertising, and it would be less when US government panels charged with investigating Facebook were asking awkward questions. I would love to know how many people are really on there, and the truth probably lies between the two extremes. Facebook probably should revise its claimed numbers down by 50 per cent.
   It’s a very simplified analysis—of course brand equity is made up of far more than trust—and doubters will point to the fact Facebook’s stock had been rising through 2017.
   But, as I said, finance follows brand, and Facebook is fairly under assault from many quarters. It has ignored many problems for over a decade, its culture borne of arrogance, and you can only do this for so long before people wise up. In the Trump era, with the US ever more divided, there were political forces that even Facebook could not ignore. Zuckerberg won’t be poor, and Facebook, Inc. has plenty of assets, so they’re not going away. But Facebook, as we know it, isn’t the darling that it was a decade ago, and what we are seeing, and what I have been talking about for years, are just the tip of the iceberg.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, leadership, media, politics, technology, UK, USA | 5 Comments »


Social media: not the evolution you might have expected

01.02.2018

I’m getting a buzz seeing how little I update social media now. Around February 2016 I began updating Tumblr far less; I’ve gone from dozens of posts per month to four in December 2017 and seven in January 2018. (Here’s my Tumblr archive.) Facebook, as many of you know, is a thing of the past for me (as far as my personal wall is concerned), though that was helped along by Facebook itself. However, I’m still a pretty heavy Instagram user, and I continue to Tweet—though with Twitter’s analytics telling you how much you’re up or down over the previous month, it might be a challenge to see if I can get that down by 100 per cent next. (It won’t happen any time soon, but if Twitter continues on its current path over its policies, it might come sooner rather than later.)
   I’m wondering if the next badge of honour is how much you can de-socialize yourself, and for those of us with web presences (such as this blog), bringing traffic to your own spaces. Why? It’s all about credibility and authenticity. And I’m not sure if the fleeting nature of social media provides them, at least not for me.
   Now in an age where so many are trying to be an “influencer”, then wouldn’t we expect the tide to turn against the shallow, fleeting posters in favour of something deeper and more considered? After all, marketing seeks authenticity—it has for a long time. What is authentic about a social media influencer who changes clothes multiple times a day out of obligation to sponsors? Even if they reach millions, did it really connect with audiences on a deeper level or did it simply seem forced?
   I can understand how, initially, social media were real connectors, allowing people to connect one on one and have a conversation. It seemed logical that marketing would head that way, going from one-to-many, to something more personalized, then (as Stefan Engeseth has posited for a long time) to one where brand and audience were on the same side, trying to find shared values (let’s call it ‘oneness’). At a time social media looked like it would help things along. But has it really? Influencers are less interested in being on the same side than being on the other side, in an adaptation of the one-to-many model. It’s just that that model itself has become democratized, so a single person has the means of reaching millions without a traditional intermediary (e.g. the media). There’s nothing really wrong with that, as long as we see it for what it is: a communications’ channel. Nothing new there.
   Some are doing it right in pursuing oneness with their audiences by posting just on a single topic, updating honestly about their everyday lives—my good friend Summer Rayne Oakes comes to mind with her Homestead Brooklyn account, and has stayed on-message with what she stands for and her message for over a decade. Within the world of Instagram, this is a “deeper” level, sharing values in an effort to connect and be on the same side as her audience. However, she isn’t solely using Instagram; other media back her up. Hers is a fantastic example of how to market and influence in the context I’m describing, so there is still a point to these social media services. But for every Summer Rayne there are many, many who are gathering attention for no values that I can fathom—it has all been about the numbers of followers and looking attractive.
   I haven’t a problem with their choice—it is their space, after all—but we shouldn’t pretend that these are media that have allowed more authentic conversations to take place. Marketers should know this. These messages aren’t customized or personalized. Algorithms will rank them so audiences get a positive hit that their own preferences are being validated, just like any internet medium that places us in bubbles. The authenticity is relative: because no party has come between the communicator and the audience, then it’s unfiltered, and in that respect it’s first-hand versus second-hand. But how many times was that message rehearsed? How many photos were taken before that one was selected? It’s “unreality”.
   There are so many such social media presences now, and crowded media are not places where people can have a decent connection with audiences. Some with millions of users—I’m thinking of young models—might not even be reaching the target audience that companies expected of them. Is what they wear really going to be relevant to someone of the opposite sex browsing for eye candy? That isn’t a genuine conversation.
   Don’t look to my Instagram for any clues, either—I use it for leisure and not for marketing. I don’t have the ambition of being a social media influencer: I’m happy with what I do have to get my viewpoints across.
   And I don’t know what’s next. I see social media decentralizing and people taking charge of their privacy more, even if most people are happy to have the authorities snoop on their conversations. Mastodon has been pretty good so far, because it hasn’t attracted everyone. The few who are there are having respectful conversations, even if posts aren’t reaching the numbers they might on Twitter, and mutual respect can lead to authenticity. If, as a marketer, that’s not what you seek, that’s fine: there are plenty of accounts operating on audience numbers but not genuine conversations—as long as you know what you’re getting into. But I believe marketing, and in particular branding, should form real relationships and dialogue. Not every life is the fantasy shown in social media—we know that that’s not possible. One politician has coined the term ‘fake news’; and social media have “fake lives”, in amongst all the bots.
   If these media become known for shallow connections “by the numbers”, then even those doing it right, forming those genuine conversations, may be compelled to move on, or at least value the social media services less because of what their brands stand for. Email is a great medium still, and you can still have great conversations on it, but email marketing isn’t as “sexy” as it was in the mid-1990s, because there’s more spam than legit messages. It takes skill to use it well and to build up a proper, consented email list. Social media are getting to a point where some big-number accounts are associated with shallowness, and the companies themselves (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) have policies and conduct that have the potential to taint our own brands.
   In 2018, as at any other time, doing something well takes hard work. There is no magic medium.

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