Archive for the ‘marketing’ category


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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Disloyalty programme, loyalty conduct

27.01.2018

P.P.P.PS.: Lumino’s head office has taken this case very, very seriously, and has been following up on Ezidebit and Goody. I’m actually really impressed—enough to add the two words to the title. They get that I’ve never put my cellphone number on an any app in the past, and they, too, know that the timing of the scam calls is suspicious. I’ve had a promise that they’ll follow up.—JY

I signed up to the Lumino Dental Plan yesterday (Friday). Big mistake. Lesson worth repeating: listen to your gut.
   Some days, the pleasant side of me kicks in and I give people the benefit of the doubt. I read the T&Cs while I was still there but it started getting unreasonable with my standing at the counter while they’re trying to deal with their other patients. ‘Don’t be such a wanker, Jack,’ I thought. ‘So their agreement wasn’t drafted by a professional lawyer. You’ve used Lumino before and the dentist last year was great, and this hygienist was excellent. Let the office manager’s sales’ technique win the day, it’s no big deal.’
   Naturally, she really wanted me to sign and made it quite clear that that was the result she wanted.
   But it was a big deal. I spent an hour last night writing the below to the companies involved. They gave five different emails so I contacted them all.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
After due consideration, I do not wish to enter into this Dental Plan, and exercise my right under the Consumer Guarantees Act to cancel it. I have been advised by Lumino the Dentists the Terrace that the cooling-off period for this sale is the standard five (working) days and I will be refunded in full.
   I was asked by the practice this afternoon to email you with my reasons should I cancel. As all the above addresses have been given to me in one communication alone, I am taking the liberty of writing to you all.
   First, I do not feel I had sufficient time to absorb the Ezidebit agreement today (Friday the 26th), especially on a tiny tablet screen, under what I felt was an expectation that I would sign before I departed.
   If I recall correctly, the tablet app links to Lumino’s terms and conditions and these are different to the ones in the DLE brochure introducing the plan. I was not made aware of the DLE’s terms and conditions initially and was led to believe that the only ones were on the tablet.
   As I advised Lumino while at the practice today, I had serious concerns about the Ezidebit agreement’s poor drafting and its reference to non-existent legislation. I was assured that should I sign, I would not suffer any loss because (a) that the cooling-off period for direct sales applied; and (b) that all Lumino customers who have cancelled to date have been refunded in full.
   Among my concerns: I have never heard of the Contracts Privacy Act (neither has my partner, who has legal training), and there is confusion about whether I will be charged administration and transaction fees (Lumino says I won’t, Ezidebit’s T&Cs say I will). I also see there are SMS fees, although I was told at the practice that my cellphone would not be used and was led to believe that its request in the app was a formality. There is no specificity on any of these fees, other than for a failed payment. Generally, the Ezidebit agreement appears to be a copy-and-paste job, its constituent parts drafted by two lawyers who hated each other, and assembled by a third who hated them both.
   Neither party has come forth with information about the handling of my private information.
   Going to Ezidebit’s parent company, Global Payments, didn’t help, since the US firm’s website says there would be information on its cookie usage on its terms of use page—but there isn’t. I never went further.
   Now that I have had a chance to sit down and review the documentation in your email, I have to conclude that with two businesses telling me different things—and the American one not even sure of what it has on its own website, let alone what laws exist in New Zealand—I have no trust in this arrangement.
   The principle might be sound enough but the execution leaves much to be desired.
   I will be happy to meet the full cost of my hygienist’s session today once I am satisfied that the refund has taken place. I respectfully request that I be refunded in full as soon as practicable, including any fees that may or may not have applied. As no privacy policy was given, I must also request that all personal details held by Ezidebit (in New Zealand and Australia, since both companies are named in the agreement) or its parent Global Payments on me, including my name, email, Visa account information and cellphone number, be deleted immediately after the refund is made. I trust that any intermediaries or contractors who got them during today’s transactions will remove them as well.

Thank you,

Yours sincerely,

Jack Yan

   A company called Goody was involved, and sent me the email asking for programme confirmation. I wrote to them separately. I’m not sure what their relationship is since the only T&Cs ever presented to me were for Lumino and Ezidebit. Goody could be an innocent third-party service provider, who also now has my personal information. I’ve asked them to delete it and take me off any programme of theirs, too. I had a peek through their terms and conditions and privacy policy, and both appeared up to snuff.
   Tonight, Lumino sent me a survey form asking me what I thought of their service. Read on if you want to find out what happened earlier today (I’ll italicize it).

The care was excellent and I do not want that mixed up with the very harsh words I have for the Lumino Dental Plan. You have already been emailed about my choice to end my participation forthwith and to pay full price for my visit once I get confirmation that I have been refunded in full including any unspecified charges. In summary, US-owned Ezidebit whom you have partnered with looks like the dodgiest company around. I do not share my private cellphone number as a matter of practice but felt compelled to do so on your app on the assurance of your staffer that it would actually not be used. I put it into your tablet and within 24 hours I have a scam caller—yours is the only “unknown” company that has this number—not any more, it seems! The American company had no privacy policy and, as I pointed out at the time of signing, cited non-existent legislation in the T&Cs you gave me. You evidently have no idea how seriously I take my privacy and I feel disappointed, distressed and let down by this whole experience. I really should have listened to my gut and walked away at the practice, instead of spending an hour writing last night’s email and even more time to update you on the scam calls I now get. I have heard of loyalty programmes but your Dental Plan is the first time I have come across a disloyalty programme.

   I feel very let down, and it’s been a lesson for me—but also for any business that decides to lend its good reputation to something highly questionable. It pays to do your due diligence, and that includes going through the customer sign-up process yourself to spot what holes there are. It’s become pretty obvious that this didn’t happen.

PS.: The scam caller on my cell came from +64 4 488-7021. Feel free to look it up for yourselves.—JY

P.PS.: The Lumino practice sent me an invoice for the hygienist’s session for another $153. No apology at all. Instead, ‘once this account is settled we will process your dental plan cancellation.’ Really?

Good morning:

I am deeply disappointed you have chosen to do it this way when I asked for the Plan to be cancelled first, as is my right—and which is something you plainly stated I could do. I don’t even get an apology or explanation for all the shortcomings in the Plan or the inconvenience caused, which is indeed surprising, or some assurance that my personal details were not sold. Given the scam calls on both my cell and land lines since providing you with my number on your app, I am sadly forced to conclude that they were.
   Let me clarify our respective positions under New Zealand law.
   Here’s where I stand:

  • I have a right to cancel this Plan. You’ve said so and I know so. I’ve exercised this right as of Friday night.
  • You do not have a right to make the refund of the Plan conditional on my settling the account.
  • I have an obligation to settle your account independent of the Plan’s cancellation.
  •    Here’s where you stand:

  • You’ve done dental work on me which you should rightly be paid for.
  • You’ve had a written offer from me to settle this account already.
  • You’re in an extremely strong position to make sure I settle the account without making settlement conditional on the Plan’s cancellation.
  • Your doing so violates New Zealand consumer law.
  •    Unlike you, I can make this conditional on your cancelling the Plan, in part because I have no way of finding out whether you’ve taken my $299 or not.
       It appears from your email that you already have.
       Logically you could refund the difference between $299 and the invoice amount, which would be taking some responsibility for this mess.
       I cannot see why I need to be out of pocket for $452 at any time. I am sure you can see how this is grossly unfair.
       This seems like a delaying tactic to make sure the five days go by.
       I now respectfully ask you cancel the Plan immediately and refund the difference, which seems the easiest solution.

    Sincerely,

    Jack

    The matter is now before the support team in Auckland. Hopefully they can sort this without my contacting their CEO (which seems like the next logical step).—JY

    P.P.PS.: The practice manager on the Terrace has received the above and responded far more professionally, asking me to leave it with her and she’ll sort it out. She assures me my details have not been sold—not that I doubted Lumino but I still have very massive doubts about Ezidebit and Global Payments. She’s also offered me 5 per cent off on future treatments out of goodwill, which is a very promising solution. Lumino’s support line in Auckland was also very friendly and logged it into their system.—JY

    P.P.P.PS.: Lumino has remained on the case and tracked down Ezidebit’s privacy policy, which I had never seen till today. And I believe we have our smoking gun. Ezidebit’s claims that they have not heard of this happening before suddenly fall flat. In cl. 3.1:

    When we share your information with third parties whom we partner with to provide our services (for example, providers of software or any other electronic applications which have been integrated with Ezidebit to enable us to process payments for users of that software or application), those third parties may use that personal information to provide marketing communications and targeted advertising to you.

    In cl. 3.2:

    We may disclose your personal information to our related companies or to third parties located outside of New Zealand, including:
    • The United States;
    • Australia;
    • Philippines;
    • The United Kingdom; and
    • Hong Kong.

    That latter clause explains the scam call on Monday, January 29 then, which was on my cell and asked for me by name. The caller had a Philippine accent and claimed she was calling from Hong Kong.—JY

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    The last American Falcon

    25.01.2018

    I’m fascinated by the 1970½ Ford Falcon for a number of reasons. The first is the obvious one: rarity. This car was built for only half a model year, from January to August 1970. If you think it looks like a contemporary Torino, you’re right: it’s basically a very stripped-down Torino. Yet you could spec it with any of the engines from the Torino, including the 429 in³ V8 (and some did). Which brings me to the second reason: why would anyone really bother with it, if you could get a Torino for a bit more? (That answers why this car only lasted half a model year.) And that leads me to the third reason: what was going through Ford’s mind at the time? That’s where it gets interesting.
       At this time, Ford was undergoing managerial changes, with Henry Ford II firing Bunkie Knudsen (who had been lured away from GM). That happened in September 1969, by which time the decision to go ahead with the Falcon had already been made. This is, in other words, a Knudsen initiative.
       Federal regulations made the 1966–70 Falcon obsolete because it had a dash-mounted starter—the rule was that they had to be in the column. However, it’s curious that Ford made this call to put the Falcon nameplate on a mid-sizer, considering it had made its name as an ‘economy’ car (by US standards). If you read the brochure, you’ll find that this was all about size. Ford bragged that the car was 2 ft longer. Yet for this half-model year, it was still marketed as an ‘economy’ car.
       I imagine as the US headed into the 1970s, there was no sign of the fuel crisis on the horizon, so there was nothing wrong about size. Why not spoil the average Falcon buyer, used to a smaller car, with something much larger? Hadn’t upsizing already happened on every other model line out there—by this point the Mustang was about to grow into a monstrosity with massive C-pillars and terrible rear visibility?
       Ford (and the other Big Four makers) had been known to blow one model line up, then start another little one, and the Maverick had already been launched for 1970, and was now doing the compact work. By that logic, Falcon could grow more, even though other solutions might have been to either replace the Falcon with the Maverick or simply shift the Falcon nameplate to the Maverick—but both would have involved “downsizing”, and in 1970 that was not in the US car industry’s vocab. The panic hadn’t set in yet.
       Fourthly, this is a beautiful shape. Unnecessarily big (till you consider it had to accommodate the 429), but a beautiful shape. The 1970s hadn’t really started in earnest, so we hadn’t seen some of the really garish shapes that were to come. This has that 1960s classicism coupled with 1970s uncertainty. There’s still some optimism with jet-age inspiration, but the lack of practicality foreshadowed the style-first, single-digit mpg “road-hugging weight” cars that were round the corner, cars which no one truly needed but Detroit, in its optimism (or blindness), believed Americans did. There’s still something very honest about the last US Falcon. After this, only the Australians and Argentinians kept things alive, but those are other stories.

    Also published at Drivetribe.

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    Zuckerberg wants to fix Facebook: too little, too late

    14.01.2018


    WTF: welcome to Facebook. (Creative Commons photograph.)

    Mark Zuckerberg’s promise to fix Facebook in 2018 is, in my opinion, too little, too late.
       However, since I ceased updating my Facebook profile last month, I’ve come across many people who tell me the only reason they stay on it is to keep in touch with family and friends, so Zuckerberg’s intention to refocus his site on that is the right thing to do. He’s also right to admit that Facebook has made ‘errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools.’
       Interestingly, Facebook’s stock has fallen since his announcement, wiping milliards off Zuckerberg’s own fortune. Investors are likely nervous that this refocusing will hurt brands who pay to advertise on the platform, who might now reconsider using it. It’s a decidedly short-term outlook based on short-term memory, but that’s Wall Street for you. Come to think of it, that’s humanity for you.
       But let’s look at this a bit more dispassionately. Despite my no longer updating Facebook, I’m continuing to get a lot of friend requests. And those requests are coming from bots. Facebook hasn’t fixed its bot problem—far from it. This reached epidemic levels in 2014, and it’s continued in 2018—four years and one US presidential election later. As discussed earlier on this blog, Facebook has been found to have lied about user numbers: it claims more people in certain demographics than there are people. If its stock was to fall, that should have done it. But nothing happened: investors are keen to maintain delusions if it helps their interests. But it needs to be fixed.
       If Zuckerberg is sincere, Facebook also needs to fix its endless databasing issues and to come clean on its bogus malware warnings, forcing people to download “scanners” that are hidden on their computers. This should have hit the tech media but no one seems to have the guts to report on it. That’s not a huge deal, I suppose, since it has meant tens of thousands have come to my blog instead, but again, that was a big red flag that, if reported, should have had investors worried. And that needs to be fixed.
       Others I’ve discussed this with inform me that Facebook needs to do a far better job of removing porn, including kiddie porn, and if it weren’t for a lot of pressure, it tends to leave bullying and sexist comments up as well.
       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 value 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.
       But the notion that businesses will suddenly desert Facebook is an interesting one to me, because, frankly, Facebook has been a lousy referrer of traffic, and has been for years. We have little financial incentive to remain on the site for some of our ventures.
       Those of us with functioning memories will remember when Facebook killed the sharing from our fan pages by 90 per cent overnight some years ago. The aim was to get us to pay for sharing, and for many businesses, that worked.
       But it meant users who wanted to hear from these brands no longer did, and I believe that’s where the one of the first declines began.
       People support brands for many reasons but I’m willing to bet that their respective advertising budgets isn’t one of them. They follow them for their values and what they represent. Or they follow them for their products and services. Those who couldn’t afford to advertise, or opted to spend outside social media, lost a link with those users. And I believe users lost one of their reasons for remaining on Facebook, because their favourite brands were no longer showing up in their news feeds.
       (Instagram, incidentally, has the opposite problem: thanks to Facebook’s suspect profiling, users are being bombarded with promotions from companies they are not fans of; Instagram’s claim that they rely on Facebook’s ad preferences, and Facebook’s claim that you can opt out of these, are also highly questionable. I get that people should be shown ads from companies they could become fans of; but why annoy them to this extent? Instagram also tracks the IP where you are surfing from, and ignores the geographical location you freely give either Instagram or Facebook for advertising purposes.)
       What then surfaced in news feeds? Since Facebook became Digg, namely a repository of links (something I also said many years ago, long before the term ‘fake news’ was coined), feeds became littered with news articles (real and bogus) and people began to be “bubbled”, seeing things that supported their own world-views, because Facebook’s profiling sent those things to them. As T. S. Eliot once wrote, ‘Nothing pleases people more than to go on thinking what they have always thought, and at the same time imagine that they are thinking something new and daring: it combines the advantage of security and the delight of adventure.’
       This, as Facebook has discovered, was dangerous to democracy and entire groups of people—people have died because of it—and thinking people questioned whether there was much value staying on the site.
       From memory, and speaking for myself, Facebook probably had the balance of personal, brand and news right in 2010.
       But I doubt that even if Facebook were to go back to something like the turn of the decade, it will entice me back. It’s a thing of the past, something that might have been fun once, like Myspace. It didn’t take long to wean me off that.
       Even Zuckerberg notes that technology should decentralize and democratize, and that big tech has failed people on this front. I can foresee an attempt to decentralize Facebook, but with a caveat: they’ll want to continue gathering data on us as part of the deal. It’ll be an interesting gamble to take, unless it’s willing to give up its biggest asset: its claim to understanding individual profiles, even if many of its accounts aren’t human.
       To me, the brand is tarnished. Every measure we have at Medinge Group suggests to me Facebook is a poor corporate citizen, and it’s going to take not just a turnaround in database stability or the enforcement of T&Cs, but a whole reconsideration of its raison d’être to serve the masses. Honesty and transparency can save it—two things that I haven’t seen Facebook exhibit much of in the 10-plus years I have used it.

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    Posted in branding, business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 12 Comments »


    Stefan Engeseth’s Sharkonomics out in China with a new edition

    11.12.2017

    My good friend Stefan Engeseth’s Sharkonomics hit China a year ago, and it’s been so successful that the second edition is now out. It looks smarter, too, with its red cover, and I’m sure Chinese readers will get a decent taste of Stefan’s writing style, humour and thinking.
       I even hope this will pave the way for translations of his earlier works, especially Detective Marketing and One: a Consumer Revolution for Business (the latter still remains my favourite of his marketing titles).
       I’ve written a brief quote for Sharkonomics and the publisher (with some nudging from Stefan) has taken the time to make sure my Chinese name is accurately recorded, rather than a phonetic translation of my Anglo transliteration, which, of course, then wouldn’t be my name.
       Stefan’s inventive and innovative thinking might seem left-field sometimes, till some years pass and people realize he was right all along. Take, for example, Google wanting to build a high-tech neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, announced in October. Notwithstanding the hassles Google has created on its own turf in Silicon Valley, it’s the sort of project we might expect from the giant now. But would we have expected it in 2007? Probably not, except Stefan did.
       In 2007 (though he actually first floated the idea a year earlier), Stefan blogged about his idea for Google Downtown—why not make real what Google Earth does virtually? Why not shop at places that already know all your personal preferences, if that’s where things are heading? The town would have free wifi and you’d be paying for it with ‘your self’ (the space, I’m sure, was intentional). In 2008, 500 people heard his plans at a conference and laughed. The following year, he met Eric Schmidt and mentioned it to him. Eric paused and didn’t laugh—and maybe the idea sunk in.
       It’s not the first time Stefan has hatched an idea and it gained legs, from Coca-Cola delivering its product through taps to Ikea making flat-pack fashion—both have wound up being done, though the latter not quite in the way Stefan envisaged.

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    Posted in business, China, marketing, Sweden | 1 Comment »


    I don’t do paid blog posts here (so don’t ask)

    11.12.2017

    I know we all get these emails from time to time, but they still annoy me.
       If ‘Peter’ had visited this blog, he would know that every single post since 2006 has been my own, unpaid, unsponsored thoughts. Why would I change that now?
       You may say it’s a fair question, and maybe in his case it is, if I had to be generous. Peter mightn’t have had the time to analyse every entry I’ve made.
       But it’s not just this one. Medinge gets these requests, too: again, it’s not something you would have asked if you had actually visited the site, when everything on the blog has been members-only, and when the philosophy of the organization would probably tell you that we couldn’t be bought or endorse any products.
       The most ridiculous would be Beyond Branding’s blog getting these requests—when that blog hasn’t been updated since 2006. We were still receiving requests in 2017.
       I know, some of these people found us through blog directories, and there was probably an email address tied to each entry.
       However, if they haven’t the courtesy to check us out, can I really trust that they would even pay up? And if Peter were legit, these unsolicited approaches have been coloured by the ridiculous ones we receive for a blog that hasn’t been updated in 11 (and almost 12) years.

    Incidentally, our commercial publications do carry paid content, and advertorials (‘native advertising’), by law, are clearly marked as such.

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    Posted in business, internet, marketing | 2 Comments »


    Trading identities in the 2010s: when corporate branding and personal branding adopt each other’s methods

    14.10.2017


    Above: Brand Kate Moss was probably seen by more people when the model collaborated with Topshop.

    In 1999, the late Wally Olins sent me his book, Trading Identities: Why Countries and Companies are Taking on Each Other’s Roles, a fine read published by the Foreign Policy Centre that argued that countries were trying to look more corporate, adopting the practices of corporate branding. Conversely, as corporations gained more power and their need to practise social responsibility increased, they were adopting the ideas from nation branding. There was an increasing amount of this swapping taking place, and the 21st century has seen the trend continue: more countries have finely tuned nation brands and guidelines on how to use them, while many corporations are trying to look like good corporate citizens—Dilmah and Patagonia come to mind with their work in building communities and advocacy.
       We’ve been discussing at our firm another area where a similar switch has been taking place: that of corporate brands and personal brands. Personal branding is a relatively new development, with (in my opinion) Managing Brand Me the best work on the subject, authored by the late Thomas Gad with his wife Annette Rosencreutz, dating from 2002. (Thomas, of course, founded Medinge Group.) Managing Brand Me features an excellent break-down of the four dimensions involved (functional, social, mental, spiritual) in any good personal brand that still hold true today. They were well ahead of their time given that they had written their book long before selfies became the norm, and before people were being hired by companies as ambassadors based on their Instagram or Twitter followings.
       Those spokespeople are practising their brands almost haphazardly, where some are getting to the point that they cannot be sustained. Others are balancing authenticity with commercial demands: we know that Kendall Jenner probably doesn’t drink Pepsi, and no one wants to be seen to sell out their values. Nevertheless, there is a group of people mindful about their personal brand, and it’s only a matter of time before more begin taking on the trappings of corporate brands: inter alia, guidelines on how theirs is to be used; what products can be endorsed by that brand; how it can be differentiated against others’. Kate Moss may well be one example with a recognizable logotype that appears on products that have her seal of approval. (If I can be slightly macabre, the estates of Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn all think carefully on how each celebrity can be used to endorse products today; while lacking symbols or logotypes, their faces themselves are more than a substitute. With technology democratizing, it is no surprise that living and less iconic people might adopt similar ideas.)
       What of companies? Many now find themselves on an equal footing, or even a disadvantage, to personal accounts. The biggest companies have to fight for attention on social networks just like some of the top personal accounts in the world, and they cannot succeed without speaking to the audience in a personal fashion. A corporate account that reposts publicity photographs would gain little traction except from fans who are already sold on the brand through non-social media; and there is some wisdom in assuming that millennials do not possess the same level of brand loyalty as earlier generations. They’re on the hunt for the best product or service for the price and adopt a more meritorious approach, and among the things that will draw them in will be the values and societal roles of the company. Therefore, there has to be a “personality” behind the account, aware of each of Thomas and Annette’s Brand Me dimensions.
       It has not escaped me that both Lucire’s fashion editor Sopheak Seng and I do better than the magazine when it comes to social media interaction—getting likes and comments—because we’re prepared to put our personalities on the line. The automated way Lucire shares articles on Twitter, for instance, hasn’t helped build its brand there, something which we’re remedying by having team members around the world post to Instagram for starters, giving people a glimpse of our individual experiences. The images might not all look polished as a result, but it is a step toward fulfilling the four dimensions. It is a quest to find a personal voice.
       In the wider media game, this is now more vital as news has become commodified, a trend that was first expressed in the 1990s, too. Perhaps those authors saw that most media outlets would be getting their news from a more concentrated base of sources, and demand on journalists to be first and fastest—something not helped by a society where speed is valued over accuracy—meant that whomever controlled the sources could determine what the world talked about. Global companies want everyone to see when they’re involved in an event that a good chunk of the planet is likely to see; in L’Oréal Paris’s case it’s the Festival de Cannes. If every fashion publication has its eyes on Cannes, then what differentiates that coverage? What stamp does the media outlet’s brand place on that coverage? Is there a voice, a commentary, something that relates to the outlet’s role in society? Should it communicate with its best supporters on social networks?
       Lucire does reasonably well each year at Cannes with its coverage, probably because it does communicate with fans on social networks and alerts them to exclusive content. The rest of the time, it doesn’t do as well because as a smaller publication, it’s relying on those same sources. In 1998 we would have been the only English-language online publication specializing in fashion that talked about each H&M launch; in 2017 many fashion publications are doing it and our share of the pie is that much smaller. Individuals themselves are sharing on their social networks, too. This is not a bad thing: others should have the means to express themselves and indulge their passion of writing and communicating. Exclusivity means traffic, which is why we do better when we cover something few others do.
       However, I recently blogged that Google News has shifted to favouring larger media players, disincentivizing the independents from breaking news. It comes back to needing a distinctive voice, a personal brand, and while we still need to rely on Google News to a degree, that voice could help build up new surfing habits. The most successful bloggers of the last decade, such as Elin Kling, have done this.
       These are the thoughts milling around as Lucire heads into its 20th anniversary this month, and we reevaluate just what made us special when the publication launched in 1997. Those values need to be adapted and brought into 2017 and beyond. But there are wider lessons, too, on just where corporate branding and personal branding are heading; this post did not set out to discuss fashion media. It’s not a bad place to start our inquiry, since fashion (and automobiles) are where a lot of brand competition takes place.
       Indeed, it signals to me that in the late 2010s, companies need to do well as corporate citizens and have a personal voice on social media, ideas that build on my 2013 paper for the début issue of Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing (where I discussed brands in the age of social media and put forward a model of how to manage them) as well as Thomas and Annette’s earlier research. It’s the next stage of where branding practice could go—JY&A Consulting is primed, and we’re prepared to let those thoughts loose on Lucire and our other projects. The book of the blog, meanwhile, is the next target. What a pity I’m not in Frankfurt right now.

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    Posted in branding, culture, France, globalization, internet, marketing, media, publishing, Sweden | No Comments »


    After years, the tech press catches on about Facebook’s inflated user numbers

    07.09.2017

    In 2014, I began warning that Facebook’s user numbers were false, and I also began saying that at some point, the site would boast more people than there were online users on Earth. (In fact, I said this very thing again earlier this week, ironically on a friend’s Facebook, above.)
       I couldn’t see how the site could cite more than one thousand million users, given that by that point, the majority of the “users” I saw on the site joining my groups were bots. I made the warning again last year.
       Now that Facebook has done something about the bots, or at least put mechanisms in place where we can identify them more readily, I’ve been seeing falls in user numbers in groups.
       Finally, in 2017, the tech press catches on, even though if in 2014 you could find over 250 bots a night, you should have been suspicious of any user numbers Facebook was claiming.
       Marketwatch notes:

       Recently, Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser was intrigued by a trade publication study in Australia that said Facebook FB, +0.80% was claiming to reach 1.7 million more 16- to 39-year olds than actually existed in the country, according to Australian census data.
       In reproducing the study for the U.S., Wieser said Facebook’s Ads Manager claims it can potentially reach 41 million 18- to 24-year-olds, 60 million 25- to 34-year-olds, and 61 million 35- to 49-year-olds. The problem arises when Wieser pulls up U.S. Census data from a year ago, showing 31 million 18- to 24-year-olds, 45 million 25- to 34-year-olds, and 61 million 35- to 49-year-olds.

       Facebook’s response:

    In a statement, a Facebook spokeswoman said that its estimates “are based on a number of factors, including Facebook user behaviors, user demographics, location data from devices, and other factors.”
       “They are not designed to match population or census estimates,” Facebook said.

    What?
       That’s right, Facebook’s numbers are not designed to match population estimates.
       Then what on earth are they designed to match?
       This is the tip of the iceberg, because the fact the site is so overrun with bots that Facebook does nothing about could be connected to why thousands are being falsely accused of malware, and why the site regularly loses basic functions for certain users (e.g. being able to like or comment). If bots are taking up all these resources, and there must be plenty given that the user numbers are so far from reality, then where does that leave legitimate users?
       I say these problems have been going on for years, but good on Mr Wieser for blowing the lid on the made-up figures, and to Wallace Witkowski of Marketwatch for covering it finally.

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    Posted in business, internet, marketing, media, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


    Google collects more enemies—we haven’t been critical enough of it

    05.09.2017

    My complaints about Google over the years—and the battles I’ve had with them between 2009 and 2014—are a matter of record on this blog. It appears that Google has been making enemies who are much more important than me, and in this blog post I don’t mean the European Union, who found that the big G had been abusing its monopoly powers by giving its own properties priority placement in its own search results. (The EU, incidentally, had the balls to fine Google €2,420 million, or 2·5 per cent of Google’s revenues, unlike various US states’ attorneys-general a few years ago, who hit them with a $17 million bill, or four hours’ income for Google.)
       It’s Jon von Tetzchner, the co-founder and CEO of Vivaldi, who blogged on Monday how Google hasn’t been able to ‘resist the misuse of power.’
       Von Tetzchner was formerly at Opera, so he has had a lot of time in the tech world. Opera has been around longer than Google, and it was the first browser to incorporate Google search.
       As you’ve read over the years, I’ve reported on Google’s privacy breaches, its false accusations of malware on our sites, its favouring big sites over little ones in News, and (second-hand) the hacking of Iphones to gather user data. Google tax-dodging, meanwhile, has been reported elsewhere.
       It appears Google suspended Vivaldi’s Adwords campaigns without warning, and the timing is very suspicious.
       Right after von Tetzchner’s thoughts on Google’s data-gathering were published in Wired, all of Vivaldi’s Google Adwords campaigns were suspended, and Google’s explanations were vague, unreasonable and contradictory.
       Recently there were also revelations that Google had pressured a think-tank to fire someone critical of the company, according to The New York Times. Barry Lynn, ousted from the New America Foundation for praising the EU’s fine, accused the Foundation for placing Google’s money (it donates millions) ahead of its own integrity. Google denies the charge. He’s since set up Citizens Against Monopoly.
       It’s taken over half a decade for certain quarters to wake up to some of the things I’ve been warning people about. Not that long ago, the press was still praising Google Plus as a Facebook-killer, something I noted from the beginning would be a bad idea. It seems the EU’s courage in fining Google has been the turning point in forcing some to open their eyes. Until then, people were all too willing to drink the Google Kool-Aid.
       And we should be aware of what powerful companies like Google are doing.
       Two decades ago, my colleague Wally Olins wrote Trading Identities: Why Countries and Companies Are Taking on Each Other’s Roles. There, he noted that corporations were adopting behaviours of nations and vice versa. Companies needed to get more involved in social responsibility as they became more powerful. We are in an era where there are powerful companies that exert massive influences over our lives, yet they are so dominant that they don’t really care whether they are seen as a caring player or not. Google clearly doesn’t in its pettiness over allegedly targeting Vivaldi, and Facebook doesn’t as it gathers data and falsely accuses its own users of having malware on their machines.
       On September 1, my colleague Euan Semple wrote, ‘As tools and services provided by companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon become key parts of the infrastructure of our lives they, and their respective Chief Executives, exert increasing influence on society.
       ‘How we see ourselves individually and collectively is shaped by their products. Our ability to do things is in our hands but their control. How we educate ourselves and understand the world is steered by them. How we stay healthy, get from one place to another, and even feed and clothe ourselves is each day more dependent on them.
       ‘We used to rely on our governments to ensure the provision of these critical aspects of our lives. Our governments are out of their depth and floundering.
       ‘Are we transitioning from the nation state to some other way of maintaining and supporting our societies? How do we feel about this? Is it inevitable? Could we stop it even if we wanted?’
       The last paragraph takes us beyond the scope of this blog post, but we should be as critical of these companies as we are of our (and others’) governments, and, the European Commission excepting, I don’t think we’re taking their actions quite seriously enough.

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    Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, social responsibility, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


    All I really know is who I won’t vote for

    29.08.2017

    One thing I love about New Zealand is that we’re not mired in an election cycle years before the event. We’re three weeks or so out from our General Election, and only now am I feeling things are heating up.
       It’s not that we haven’t had drama. Weeks ago, Metiria Turei was co-leader of the Greens, Andrew Little led Labour, and Peter Dunne was aiming for another term as MP for Ōhāriu and leader of United Future. None of these hold true in late August.
       What is unusual is that I’m undecided because of all these late changes, and we’re still learning about policies in some cases—I remember getting my manifesto out six months before an election, and the uncertainty here isn’t helping. The billboards have done nothing to sway me one way or another. Policy-wise, I have some things in common with each of the parties, excepting ACT, though probably like most New Zealanders, I haven’t had a chance to visit all the parties’ websites yet, though I will in the next few weeks. Various websites helping people decide based on stated policy actually give very different answers: On the Fence suggests I am both a National and Labour supporter (I often kid and say the parties are the same, just plus or minus 10 per cent); yet taken earlier, it said United Future and Māori Party were the top two with the most in common with me. Vote Compass gives Green and Mana. The websites, then, are no help, because they base their answers on selected issues, and apparently I’m both right- and left-wing.
       Twitter is comparatively quiet in 2017, giving fewer clues about how candidates are thinking, and I hardly look at my Facebook (for obvious reasons). I have spied some of the TVCs, where Labour has done an excellent job, and (last I looked) National has uploaded only one to its YouTube channel, so I can’t even see the first one that has been on telly. A lack of coordination between online and traditional media worries me.
       It’s an odd mix, none of whom really stand out.
       The incumbent National Party currently has an unimaginative TVC that is an adaptation of the rowers of 2014, and it only serves to highlight that, after three terms, they are out of touch. Say what you will about the former PM, the Rt Hon John Key, he had a pretty keen sense of the electorate. Not so this National Party, where the Deputy PM gave this quote:

       I see my friend Andy Boreham suggests ‘Minster’ is a misspelling of ‘Monster’, but such a point makes a mockery of New Zealanders’ belief (even if it does not hold true with growing inequality) that being Deputy PM is no greater a duty or more important a job than being a union leader. Some might have voted for National before on the premise that John Key is rich (I’m sure that worked for Trump, too), but, as we know, they aren’t going to return the favour of a vote by giving up a share of their wealth with you. PM Bill English, whom I first met while he was Treasurer in 1999, is an intelligent man with a sense of humour that doesn’t come across on television, and that won’t hold him in good stead this time out. Pity: there are many National MPs I like (e.g. Paul Foster-Bell, Simon O’Connor). The Nats’ 2002 campaign with Bill as leader was a disaster: I saw no outdoor advertising when I came back from Europe. This time there’s a lot of outdoor, but none of it says anything to me, other than National has spent some money licensing new fonts. I should note that no one has won an election for a long, long time in this country using a typeface that has a single-storey lowercase a.
       Labour has staged a turnaround like no other, one where leader Jacinda Ardern is neck in neck with the PM on one preferred prime minister poll. I had dismissed Labour earlier on as a party with unhealable divisions, but the speed at which Ardern and her party have pulled together an overhauled campaign is to be commended. I’ve never voted Labour before, and I’m still not convinced that the divisions are gone, but I will say this of Ardern, just as I once did of myself when I stood for office in my 30s: if we screw it up, we have a lot, lot longer to live with the consequences. She will take this seriously. She has had more parliamentary experience at this point than Key when he first got to the PM’s office, and former PM Helen Clark has endorsed her. Rose-coloured glasses about the Clark administration will help, even if I was critical of certain aspects of it back then. Post-Little, Labour could get more Chinese New Zealanders voting for them, too, after an earlier screw-up with a real estate agent’s list that was handled horribly. Chinese NZers have long memories, and some labelled the gaffe racist. Ardern is a departure from Little and the message here is ‘Don’t hinder Jacinda.’
       Peter Dunne’s decision not to stand in Ōhāriu means that the United Future party is at an end. It’s a shame, because I have always got on with Peter, and he has been generous to me with his time, more so than my own MP. Similarly, the Greens’ James Shaw I count as a friend of over seven years, but the Turei scandal has left the party hurt, even if its policies remain on track. The signage has been appallingly dull, bereft of imagination, even if James’s performance in a recent Nation debate clearly marks him out as the intellectual, aware of global trends. If we want a globalist (or at least a globally aware MP) in Parliament, then we could do far worse than ensuring the Greens get in above the 5 per cent threshold. Strategically, a party that has its origins in the environment (even if that message hasn’t been hammered home of late) makes sense, as I believe we need to protect ours desperately. Vote Compass says I’ve most in common with the Greens this time out, and Toby Morris makes a good point with his latest cartoon.
       The Opportunities Party has some good points—I’m in favour of closing tax loopholes for foreign companies operating on our shores—and its leader, Gareth Morgan, who normally comes across as lacking the common touch, did well in the debate, at least when he had something to say. I’ve followed Morgan on Twitter for some time, long before this political foray, and often liked what he had to say. However, at either website TOP and I don’t have that much in common.
       The Māori Party, as my supposed second choice based on On the Fence (at least the first time out a few weeks ago), could have received my vote after Peter decided not to stand, but Marama Fox’s performance in the above debate didn’t impress me, even if she impressed all the talking heads in the studio. It goes to show how different things are in person. Fox has passion and fire, but didn’t have the figures to back up her policies—and I know from having been on the podium with my opponents that you should have them, and your researchers should have at least come up with an estimate. I don’t know where Mana sits; I had a far better idea when Kim Dotcom was involved.
       New Zealand First, helmed by the Rt Hon Winston Peters, the most establishment of all the politicians who successfully carries on an antiestablishment message, has signage up with Peters’ face and the words ‘Had enough?’ On that note I find accord with New Zealand First’s message. I have had enough of Winston Peters, and I answer their advertisement in the affirmative. But I shan’t be voting for them.

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    Posted in marketing, New Zealand, politics | 2 Comments »