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Branding for Good

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This year has been a tough one. The economy is still in the dumps with little sign of recovering. Our political class cannot agree on anything. And people have taken to the streets to voice their frustrations. On a more positive note, Americans have taken control of their lives back. They started living within their means: more saving, less spending. They are pursuing non-traditional paths of development by creating social enterprises in their communities.
These social, economic and political forces shape the way we think, behave and consume brands. The more a brand is credibly in-tune with its social environment, the more love the brand gets from its consumers.
In 2011, brands such as Amex, Hyundai and Panera stayed relevant with customers by pursuing programs that are in-tune with the social environment. Amex launched Small Business Saturday to help small businesses. Hyundai extended its already strong warranty in cases of unemployment. Panera ran a pay-what-you-want …

Advertising in Times of Inequality

An unequal society is a polarized one at all levels. People tend to have not only very distinctive political and social views, but also distinctive brand preferences. Consumers favor brands that mirror their beliefs and emotional aspirations. As a result, advertising strategy in times of inequality might be to market high and low.

 Though North America has yet to reach the inequality levels of other regions like Latin America, the social gap in the US has widened through the years. Inequality among working-age people has risen steadily since 1980, in total by 25%. This increase in inequality has a created a situation of class warfare. We have seen this through demonstrations from the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the political paralysis of our congress.

This class warfare goes beyond the social and political arena. This war also has affected consumers’ brand preferences. Brands are an extension of consumer personas. Brands need to connect with their audience at the emotional level …

Behind The Times

Last weekend, I went to see New York Times: Page One, a documentary on The Times’ struggles in today’s digital landscape. The New York Times, whose revenue has significantly declined in past years, still remains one of the top sources of credible reporting in the US. The Times website receives approximately 30 million unique visitors per month. To survive, the Times is restructuring its business model.  On May 26, 2011 The Times instituted a paywall for visitors who want to access more than 20 articles per month. This is the second time that the New York Times has launched a paywell. The first was in 2006, TimesSelect. The paywell was unsuccessful at that time, and The Times pulled the plug in 2007 due to the loss in advertising revenue.
I don’t know if the scheme is going to work this time. I definitely hope it does. Early results are encouraging. The number of paid digital subscribers already surpassed 100K within three weeks of the global launch of the scheme. The question is whet…

The Reset of the Agency Model

Ad agencies are always telling clients they need to be customer centric. The paradox is that agencies, for the most part, are still structured and positioned by line of channels/capabilities. We have digital, traditional “creative”, experiential “event”, social media, PR, mobile agencies and more. Though I understand the need for channel expertise, I wonder if this model makes sense anymore. In today’s connected society, customers experience the brand across multiple screens and platforms, sometimes at the same time. To be customer-centric, agencies should position their services in the same way. In other words, agencies should focus on brand experience rather than channel or capability expertise. This means the end of the channel line: digital agencies are becoming “creative” agencies while “creative” agencies are becoming digital.

They say that if the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems are going to look like nails. Positioning the agency by channel “tool” not only create…

Local is Love

The economic recession has reset Americans’ values system. American culture has shifted from individualistic to community-minded. No longer is the emphasis solely on individual success. The recession has strengthened bonds among people living in the same neighborhoods, sharing the same hardships, and struggling to make ends meet. The recession has created unity and collaboration not seen since the Great Depression. Americans know that only by uniting can they survive and get back on track. Local has become beautiful.


To protect the community, people are living, shopping and investing locally. The housing crisis has trapped Americans in their neighborhoods. They can no longer afford to move out given job losses and decreases in home values. The economy has pushed Americans to collaborate. The new mantra in the neighborhood has become more in line with “help me, help you” to quote Tom Cruise in “Jerry McGuire”. In developing countries with high levels of inequality, this social dynami…

What is your “Like” currency policy?

“Like” is becoming the new trust currency. Publishing companies such as The New York Times and CNN are already using it to recommend and distribute content. NGOs, in partnership with sponsors, are leveraging “Like” for donations. For instance, if a NGO gets 100,000 “Likes” for a cause, the sponsor will kick in $100K. So, why not use “Like” to determine the price of digital goods?

To see how this might work, let’s use a publishing company for online books as an example. The publisher decides to use “Like” to help determine the price of its online books. “Like” will function as a floating currency on which the price is based on supply and demand. The more “Likes”, the lower the price. The publisher will need to establish a price base and ceiling in order to not lose money and remain competitive. In addition, they will need to determine the exchange rate of “Likes” to actual dollars. This exchange rate will need to be fair and transparent, so customers know what to expect for their “…

The Digital Dilemma, Paid vs. Earned Media

In real life you cannot buy trust, you need to earn it. The digital society is no different. Web authority comes through consistently delivering value that’s true to your story and to customers’ needs. This is how your site gets links and followers. You just cannot buy your way into an organic ranking on the first page of Google search results. You need to earn it. In America post-financial crisis, people are looking for brands that are kind, friendly and generally social responsible. They respect brands that serve their communities. That is the real deal. They reject brands that are trying to buy their trust only through advertising. Businesses need to align their marketing dollars with customers’ values. They need to shift their digital approach from buying to earning. This means less “online advertising” (e.g., display banners/SEM) and more partnerships, community outreach and great content.

Small businesses know that the key to success is not advertising. It is consistently …

The New Trust Currency

In an open society, trust is everything. The more consumers trust your brand, the more they are likely to recommend and buy it. Trust can take many shapes and forms on the web. Brands can demonstrate that they are trusted through consumer ratings, comments, awards, research or expert endorsements. A new form of trust is the display of public interfaces. In other words, showing pics of friends who “like” the brand or content. If a picture is worth a 1000 words, these pics of your friends’ “like” might become the new trust currency.

Displaying public interfaces has at least two advantages for brands: 1) establishing trust through associations and 2) providing a sense of belonging.

1) Brands are associations of consumers’ beliefs. Consumers buy brands that provide emotional reinforcement, especially pride in who they are and what they do according to Dan Hill’s research published in “Emotionomics”. Since “friends” are part of who we are, displaying their pics and “like” will help t…

The New Shift: From Marcom to Markops

The new digital landscape is changing the role of marketing communications (marcom). The old model of marcom working in silos, separate from operations, is not longer sustainable. Social platforms and new technology are blurring the line between marcom and operations. Businesses that do a better job integrating these functions are more likely to succeed in this new environment. We can see great examples in customer-centric companies such as Zappos, Southwest, P&G and Apple. These companies connect marcom with customer service (e.g., Zappos & Southwest) and with operations/product development (e.g., P&G and Apple). We are likely to see the role of marketing operations increasing in relevance in today’s business world.

Marketing communications has traditionally been in the back seat of the corporate world. Tenures for CMOs tend to be short, with a limited seat at the table. They have been focused for the most part on communications. Finance and operations have traditional…

The American Brand Awakening

America is not the same. The economic recession has profoundly changed peoples’ values systems in this country. Facing adversity, Americans have decided to take back control of their lives. The millennium generation, aged 18-29, experienced a 37% unemployment rate in 2010 according to Pew Research Center. This generation is leading the pack, driving shifts in how Americans think about business, technology and community. They have started their owned ventures with a different set of values from Wall Street. Their new set of values has also made companies reconsider the way they market to consumers.

Yesterday, I went to a conference featuring fellow Medill alumnus John Gerzema, author of “Spend Shift”. John conducted research across the country to understand the impact of the economic recession on peoples’ lives and on their buying behavior. Gerzema findings challenge the media’s presentation of public sentiment as depressed and pessimistic. Instead, he argues that the recession has s…

Emotional CRM

CRM as we know it is a glass half full. It assumes that consumers only have a rational relationship with brands. CRM software tends to segment and contact customers based on their purchase behavior. The reality is that feeling comes first. Emotions tend to lead to actions while reason leads to conclusion. So, why not fill the other half of the glass with emotion? Can we humanize CRM to have a more emotional relationship with customers?

Social network platforms and web 2.0 technology have opened the door to this possibility. Consumers are broadcasting their feeling every day through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. We are living in a naked society where the lines between online and offline expression are blurring. Brands can assess consumers’ emotional states based on their online social behavior and anticipate the link to purchase behavior.

To see how this works, let start with the basics. According to Dan Hill's Emotionomics, there are 7 core emotions that can be grouped in three…

The Socialization of the Purchase Process

The purchase process as we know it hasn’t changed. People still need to learn, shop and get support. But through new avenues of digital and human interaction, this process has become more social. Consumers are relying on a community to inform their decisions at every step. Communities have become trusted advisors, and brands have evolved to become facilitators within those communities. Together, the communities and brand facilitators not only help consumers to learn about products, but also to shop and provide support. This socialization has opportunities and challenges for brands. On one hand, a social brand experience creates a trusted environment that benefits the brand with more likelihood to purchase. On the other hand, this environment can also expose any flaws in the brand experience across any touch points.

Businesses have the option to socialize different stages of their purchase process: learn, shop and support. To see how this works, lets look at three brands in the baby …

How much are your “friends” worth online?

The expansion of social networks has made social capital a mainstream term in our society. Wikipedia defines social capital as the connection within and between networks. Essentially, it’s about the value of your relationships. The bigger your network, the more access you should have to jobs, information, and supports.

Right? Well, not quite. Social capital also has a diminishing return. Image that you live in a society where everyone is a “friend” of everyone else online. Then, membership becomes less valuable. A surplus of friends in your network is likely to bring down the value of each individual friend. It is like being in a club where everyone can get in. You are likely to get less social capital out your membership even though the value of the overall network is bigger.

As social networks expand, so do online groups. These groups have mushroomed across social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. They provide a tighter community with higher level of social capital for its…

The Virtual Immigrant: The Economics of Digital Goods

There is no doubt that social networks have made the diasporas closer to home. I remember when I first came to this country as student 12 years ago. At that time, I had to buy phone cards every week to call my family. Now, I connect with them for free almost on a daily bases through social networks or Skype. Furthermore, I keep in touch with friends across the world.

New media has empowered immigrants to go beyond a simple phone conversation. Now, they are in social networks and are sending pictures and videos via smart phones. Their families and friends at home are also consuming digital goods from the US.

This new dynamic has created a virtual immigrant: an immigrant who is not physically in their home country, but continues to consume culture, ideas and digital goods from home. I wonder what is the impact of this immigration? Are people more connected to their home countries? Are these virtual immigrants also consuming digital goods and ideas from abroad, by watching videos on…

Building Digital Brands through the Art of Storytelling

There is a lot similarity between digital branding and filmmaking. They both have a story to tell for the audience to engage with the brand or film among many competing options. Filmmakers probably have it harder. They rarely get a second chance. Movies have a short window of time to make it or fizzle out. In fact, the film industry in general can forecast in the first opening week the total gross revenue for the year. As a result, Movies need to be relevant, unique, credible and interesting to be successful. This sounds a lot like branding.

Keeping with this analogy, let’s say that you want to assess your brand storytelling. Documentary filmmakers think of the story in a three-act structure, similar to playwrites. The hero’s journey has three acts to follow: problem (set up), confrontation and resolution.

To best tell the story, filmmakers tend to focus on the key scenes when the main character is confronted with the story’s central conflict. A good example is the Shawshank Redem…

Growing a fan base through social media

“When we are at rehearsal, I tweet a picture of us rehearsing.  When we are backstage at the show, I tweet a picture of backstage. Sometime I tweet a melody of a song that we are working on.I tweet to connect with my fans” - Adam Metzger, composer and guitar, AJR
Adam is part of a young generation of musicians using social media to build their fan base. He is a junior at Columbia University, and along with his two brothers, Ryan, 16, and Jack, 13, has a band called AJR.  The band plays pop music, ballads and iconic covers.  The band has about 700 “Likes” in Facebook, which is the hub of everything Adam does.  They also have a website, Myspace, Twitter, Ping and Youtube pages. However, Facebook is where Adam is trying to build the fan base. 
“Now a days people websites are not used so much to build a fan base. They are for redirecting people to the social networks, and iTunes. It is really more about the social media experience. The connecting of fans to each other and to the artist,” A…

How does social media keep governments honest?

“We Are All Khaled” is name of the Facebook page that sparked and fueled the revolution in Egypt. The page became the platform to showcase police brutally in Egypt. The page did what the censored media channels were not able to do. It allowed individuals to broadcast, aggregate, and organize the protest against the regime. 
Social media is a natural fit in the fight against corruption. The media allows anonymous individuals to broadcast in real-time, providing a new mechanism to bring to light the extortions and bribes that make their daily lives harder.Social media provides the means to make our society more accountable and transparent.No longer do individuals need to rely on big media channels to tell their stories. Today, individuals have become citizen journalists with the power to broadcast, organize and keep government in check.
As Internet penetration grows in our society, we are likely to see more accountability and transparency. Individuals with mobile phones and Internet acc…

The Four Characters of Social Brands

The new web is all about relationships and social capital. Virtual communities have become an extension on our daily lives. We meet, contribute, collaborate, create and host events that help expand our social network. So where do brands fit in this context? What makes a brand social? And how social can a brand be?

I think brands follows the same principles as people do in their project interactions. We can define social brands in the same way we define individuals on a project. Every time we are planning events, we need to figure out who does what. For instance, let’s say that you are planning the next board meeting for your condo.  You will need to establish who is hosting the event. Who is bringing food and beverages? Do you want people to submit questions for the agenda?...
There is always going to be a tradeoff involved. The more control you are willing to give away, the more likely others will feel like part of the meeting. By the same token, ceding control elevates the risk of go…

The Naked Generation: Growing up Social

How much have social networks changed our notion of privacy? What are the implications of broadcasting our lives online? It is good or bad
I think it’s undeniable that privacy as we know it has changed. We can easily check our friends online to figure out where they are, who are they dating, what they ate yesterday….For the “older” generation like myself who didn’t grow up in this environment, this is a change. Honestly, I am still a bit concerned about exposing myself online, though my feeling about it is changing by the day.
The story, however, is different for the generation growing up on Facebook. They are not afraid to share their lives online. They want to send a signal to the world that they are alive. They are staging their own “reality” TV show that just happens to be online. This is why I call them the naked generation. They are living in a transparent age where the lines between public and private are blurring. I don’t know if social networks are the cause, but they are like…

The Economy of Digital Ideas

What makes an online business successful? What works or doesn’t? As we might be going through another Internet bubble, these questions are becoming more relevant and harder to answer. Most of the publishing companies have yet to figure out a model that works. We just saw a few days ago the launch of The Daily News, the first tablet newspaper. While it is hard to predict its future, the media is evolving and adapting to this new market.

If we follow the basic demand and supply principles of microeconomics, we might get some directions. The web has created abundant supply of information. Every time that a user is entering the web, a publisher is also joining.  As a result, news corporations have lost market power. The abundance of online publishers has brought information price down to free level.
In this free digital world, what are people willing to pay for? They are probably more likely to pay for scarce resources such a personal interactions, which cannot be substitute online. For i…

What is causing the revolt in Egypt?

I cannot stop watching the news on the revolt in Egypt. It is really an historical event not only for Egypt, but also for the entire region.  People in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez have gone to the streets to bring down the government of Hosni Mubarak.   To give context on how big this is it. Mubarak, who is 80 years old, has been in power for almost 30 years. He came to power after the assassination of Anwar El-Answat in 1981 by Army officers oppose to the Israel-Egypt peace treatment.  The agreement, highly sensitive at that time, made Egypt the first Arab nation to recognize Israel. Mubarak came through the military ranks, the Air Force, which is highly respected in the country as oppose to the police.
As we are looking to these events across the region: The Jasmine revolution in Tunisia, the “Day of Anger” in Lebanon, protests in Jordan, Yemen, and now Egypt, I cannot stop asking what has sparked these protests.  Given the history with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, there is always a co…

What Social Networks to Use When

I found this chart very helpful to get the most out of the most popular social platforms. The figure is from the book “How to Make Money with Social Media”  by Jamie Turner and Reshma Shah, PHD. I highly recommend the book since it explains in a very simple way the different platforms, mediums, and channels to get started in social media.

Chavez and Twitter – “The Creation of a Communication Guerrilla”

With more than 1,123,743 followers, the Venezuelan President is winning the PR battle Love or hate him, there is something to talk about the Venezuelan President. Chavez has been elected three times in a row. Even though his popularity has declined, he still holds a good chance of winning the next election. This is despite of Venezuela going through one of the worst economic times; the economy shrank by almost 2 % in 2010. Venezuela has now had more than eight consecutive quarters of falling GDP. This is at the time where all the Latin American countries are growing. We can also argue that he has become more authoritarian. He has handicapped the legislative and justice branch. He even changed the election rules to continue to hold majority. However, you have to ask yourself, what is Chavez doing right? For starters, he connects to the masses on a way than no other candidate does it. He also has mastered twitter. He has made twitter “a weapon that also needs to be used by the revolution…

Dominican Republic in Times of Cholera

The DR needs to step up its help to Haiti. The country has too much to lose. Haiti’s problems are Dominicans' problems.


The Problem
A few days ago, a US coworker asked how safe it is to travel to the Dominican Republic (DR) these days. She was planning a trip to the DR with her family to a resort in Punta Cana, in the east coast of the island. Her concern is legitimate: the DR borders Haiti, which is experiencing an outbreak of cholera after the devastating earthquake last year. The bacterial intestinal disease has already killed more than 1,100 people in Haiti and hospitalized more than 18,000 others.
After my short conversation, I started wondering how many people also fear visiting the DR. What is going to be the social and economic cost to the DR? What can the country do about it? Should they acknowledge or ignore it?
The DR has a fairly decent health system, which is ranked 51st out of 191 countries. This is lower than Mexico and South Korea. The CDC and the WHO (World Health Org…