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September 23, 2011 Let’s get together

By Andrew Challier

Social media demands that companies link both their paid and unpaid communications and measurement. Andrew Challier asks what this means for brands.

In the age of the informed consumer, big brands are subject to an unprecedented level of scrutiny. That scrutiny extends way beyond the confines of their products and financial performance.

If brands are under the microscope, it is social media which has provided the means to dramatically increase the order of magnification. The bigger the brand, the bigger the target, and so the bigger the threat posed by what would historically be labelled a ‘PR crisis’ but which now should be seen just as much as a ‘brand crisis’. BP, Toyota, almost any bank and, most recently, News International have all suffered from the attentions of the social media ‘chatterati’ as well as the mainstream media.
On the plus side, however, the opportunity to manage the crisis – via the same social media channels – is greater than it ever has been.

We all recognise that ‘reputation management’ seeks to mitigate the negative and accentuate the positive. In this new world, however, we also need to recognise that reputation management is no longer the preserve of the Corporate Affairs function, nor is ‘brand management’ the sole preserve of Marketing. The consequences of misaligned communication have never been more critical.

A greater variety of Influencers

Reputations and brands are impacted by a wide variety of stakeholders, internal (staff) and external (consumers, investors, lobbyists etc) and businesses need a way to measure, manage and influence these various constituencies. Paid media is an important part – but only a part – of the picture. Brands need to benchmark and analyse both paid and unpaid media, to help identify both the ‘danger signs’ and the opportunities.

To create effective tools, a brand needs to understand the context for how its key products (within key markets) – and those of its competitors – are being discussed in social (and editorial) media around the world. This helps start to build an understanding of the issues of most importance and how they might choose to engage with relevant groups/audiences in a relevant way.
At the same time, by benchmarking paid-for messaging versus their principal competitors, companies can analyse the extent to which they are able to ‘own’ important topics and the extent to which they or their competitors are achieving better alignment between what is seen as important and the messages transmitted. Benchmarking the price paid for that media and the quality of its placement completes this circle.

Choosing the right measures and tools

There is an increasing amount of message monitoring software available to brands – paid, unpaid and social media etc. Most of it adds little value: whilst it aggregates the data, it lacks the human intelligence to draw meaningful, business-relevant conclusions. Clients are demanding an integrated ‘vital signs’ marcomms monitoring service tailored to their individual needs. Such a system need not be complex (in fact, the less complex the better), but the benefit is magnified when the total picture is assembled from a single, impartial perspective. And it only works to its true potential when brands have identified the correct KPIs within the business that can be reasonably linked to the benchmarking.

While brands might wish for the holy grail of a ‘one size fits all’ brand optimisation tool – simply drop all the ingredients in the top, pull a lever (or push a button) and out drops an optimised plan at the bottom – the reality is that there are very good reasons to use a combination of methodologies and tools.
For example, digital measures frequently underplay the contribution of offline marketing and other media ‘levers’ and, while econometric modelling is great at budget allocation and provides a powerful basis for budget optimisation between markets, brands and different channels, it rarely reflects the importance of reputation.

Different – and appropriate – techniques are available for measuring the corporate value of reputation. The ‘brand lesson’ which we preach, therefore, is to understand how these different measurement techniques are best used – not to provide a universal panacea, but to inform better quality decision making.

Taking action

Messaging
Ensure that corporate and brand messaging are aligned – addressing the key issues in a coordinated manner.

Example:
British Airways is aiming to rekindle pride among staff and consumers via a new ‘heritage’ marketing campaign; the aim is to regain the trust of both the general public and its own employees disillusioned by strike action, cancelled flights and low morale.

Organisation
Ensure that the company organisation is aligned organisationally. This doesn’t have to imply a merger between corporate affairs and marketing.

Example:
Nestlé has appointed Pete Blackshaw – author of Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000 – as Global Head of Digital and Social Media, with dual reporting lines into the global heads of both Corporate Affairs and Marketing.

Measurement
Ensure that tracking and measurement are able to answer these two questions from a consistent and comparable perspective: – What are people saying about us and our competitors? – What are our competitors saying about themselves?

Example:
In response to client demand, Ebiquity has developed an integrated message alignment reporting and benchmarking service, which draws upon data from its Portfolio and Echo Sonar monitoring software, and which feeds into both the marketing and corporate affairs functions.

 

Andrew Challier is head of marketing investment management at Ebiquity

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