Managing Brands from inside the Fishbowl

Tom Fishburne, creator of my all-time favorite Word-of-Mouth cartoon, has published a new one, which depicts perfectly the situation brand managers are in today: Tom writes:
In today's hyper-connected world, consumers choose how they interact with your brand, not the other way around. And they're more apt to look through or around the brand "persona" to the real deal. And then share what they find with others in blogs or other social media. We're all in a fishbowl now, and we're all held up to a different standard.
Exactly right and a great metaphor! Very often, I find myself in front of people from agencies or big brands, who want to know my opinion about that clever new campaign idea, which depends 100% on consumers not figuring out, what is going on. I usually ask them: but what if your audience finds that out? The usual answer: how should they? Well, I guess from now on, I will just refer them to this cartoon...
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Guy Kawasaki on The Art of Branding

Guy Kawasaki, Apple's former "Chief Evangelist", started a weblog just a few weeks ago. So far it's a pretty interesting one. Now he wrote a nice piece on the Art of Branding - with 8 very valid, very wise points ! My favorite:
4. Apply the opposite test. How many times have you read a product description like this? “Our software is scalable, secure, easy-to-use, and fast?” Companies use these adjectives as if no other company claims its product is scalable, secure, easy-to-use, and fast. See if your competition uses the antonyms of the adjectives that you use to describe your product. If it doesn't, your description is useless. For example, I've never seen a company say that its product was limited, full of leaks, hard-to-use, and slow.
Sounds so simple and logical, doesn't it ? Why is it then that I keep having these endless, fruitless discussions with some clients about this when working on this press release or that ad copy ? Wrong clients, you say ? Maybe... ;-)
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The Mystery of Dalarö - Brilliant Online Branding Site from Volvo

To promote their all new S40, Volvo has launched a nice microsite about the "Mystery of Dalarö" (via iChat from Heiko).volvo-mysteryReally a great concept and a wonderful realisation ! Although the campaign is aimed only at the UK market, sites like Blogdex or Popdex clearly show that people all over the world are enjoying it. Once again: global reach without paying extra - courtesy of the Internet and viral marketing... ;-) Btw, Volvo Germany also has a S40 microsite, which is nice, too - but not nearly as good as the British... Update@23Mar2004: Additional Background Information available
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Sony integrates Weblogs into the Online Campaign for Spiderman 2

Although the movie Spiderman 2 won't be released until next summer, Sony Pictures is already trying to create some buzz about it. For example, just this week a teaser trailer was made available on Yahoo. They also have a very comprehensive website online. There Sony is trying two different approaches to use weblogs for promoting the movie (via pointblog.com and Martin Roell): First there is a group weblog, written by three production assistants during the time the film was shot. Nice idea, but it only contains postings from April and May 2003 and there are probably not many people who are interested in a weblog with content that is nearly a year old... The second approach looks much more promising: Users of Blogger and Live Journal can download templates and graphics to bring the Spiderman look and feel to their weblogs. I think, that's a pioneering idea with great potential !! And here is why... It is not really new to provide devoted fans and customers with digital giveaways, which let them customize their personal environment. Sony is also doing this with the usual stuff: wallpapers, screensavers or buddy icons. But from a marketers point of view there is a problem with that: most of these elements are only visible to the fan himself. Wouldn't it be a lot better, if he could instead show his affection to the outside world - or at least to friends & family ? Weblogs can solve this problem perfectly ! They usually use templates and stylesheets, which are as easy to change as the ringtone of a mobile or the desktop picture of a pc. Within seconds the whole weblog can be temporarily turned into a giant ad for the blogger's favorite brand !! And one that is really hard to overlook while still being relatively unintrusive and also very authentic. Because it is not really an ad. It is more an endorsement by a person who's opinion is obviously of some interest to the people who are reading his weblog... So for brands with very devoted customers, weblog templates and stylesheets can become really interesting agents for viral marketing and a very efficient way to complement an online branding campaign. By the way, if you have any doubt that this works, just pay a short visit to the weblog of Jason Shellen - he clearly got infected !! ;-)
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"The devil makes work for idle thumbs..." - Great Viral Campaign from Virgin Mobile

A company that really tested the possibilities of online branding and viral marketing in 2003 was definitely Virgin Mobile in the UK. To promote things like their 3p text tariff they looked for alternative strategies to complement traditional advertising campaigns (from Brand Republic):
James Kydd, brand director for Virgin Mobile, said: "We are using online viral and buzz marketing as a strategic part of our 'idle thumbs' marketing campaign in order to broaden awareness of our new 3p text tariff -- particularly among the culture-driving, technology-savvy online viral community (...)"
Following a two months rythm Virgin Mobile launched a barrage of viral clips and microsites. They were all very elaborate, brilliantly interwoven with the overall branding strategy and extremely funny !! The video clips were created by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe / Y&R, while Digital Marketing Communications (DMC) was responsible for the execution of the viral marketing part of the campaign. Here is quick overview of what they did: Really a great case for how to use viral marketing and online branding. But what is the bottom line here ? Did these alternative strategies really make a difference in this highly competitive market ? Well, according to this Press Release from Virgin the answer is probably yes:
Virgin Mobile enjoys its best ever Q3 - and pips Orange! 05.11.03: Virgin Mobile, Britain’s fastest growing network, today reported its best ever third quarter performance - a record trading period second only to last year’s Christmas quarter. During the summer months of July, August and September 2003, Virgin Mobile added 269,381 net new customers, more than double the growth squeezed out of arch-rival Orange over the same period. The outstanding performance, 16% up on Q3 2002, has lifted Virgin Mobile’s customer numbers by 56% since this time last year to well over three million, with customers at the end of Q3 2003 totalling 3,138,347. These figures follow the record-breaking achievement set by Virgin Mobile during the first six months of this year, when the company added more net customers than Orange, O2, 3, T-Mobile and Vodafone put together. The company says its 3p text tariff, and other value-focused offerings, is driving growth and customer loyalty.
Of course, I don't know exactly how much of this success can be attributed to the viral marketing activities. But I am pretty sure they didn't hurt... ;-)
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HAEFTLING - A new Fashion Label is born

Since 1898 inmates of the Berlin State Prison are making clothes and accessories for their own needs. But recently a marketing agency had the idea to market these products professionally to the outside world. They created a new brand - HAEFTLING (inmate) - and set up a website - www.haeftling.de. It all looked very sophisticated and well designed. Then the spin-machine was started and many German newspapers, like Der Spiegel or Stern, carried the story a few weeks ago (Article in English on DW World). The idea became an instant success and in less than a month the website was flooded with over 3600 orders from all over the world !! There was just one hitch: only 50 inmates were working for the HAEFTLING label and they couldn't keep up with all the orders coming in. So the e-commerce system had to be shut down for the time being and 30 additional inmates were hired. The interesting thing is that according to an article in the FTD, nearly every German penitentiary is selling products made by inmates. But Herr Ledesi, the agency behind all this, did something totally different: they didn't just start selling shirts from yet another prison tailor shop. Instead they came up with a very elaborate concept: the brand, the website, the story - everything feels very authentic and makes you want to buy this stuff. In fact, they did their homework so well that nobody seems to ask an obvious question: How good is the quality ? None of the articles mentioned above says anything about this ! Perhaps everybody assumes that the products are as perfect as the branding !? Which is of course a classical function of a brand - but this kind of trust-building usually takes a bit longer than just a few weeks !! There are still quite a few loose ends to tie up, tough: besides the quality issue, for example, it won't be possible to boost output in that one single prison after a certain level is reached. If they move the production outside, the products would loose a lot of their authenticity. But perhaps they can establish some kind of prison network, where many small groups are all working for the HAEFTLING label. This would create much needed jobs for a lot of inmates. Anyway, if they solve these problems, it is pretty easy to predict that very soon HAEFTLING will reach cult status at internet speed - perhaps even worldwide !! And it has the potential to become a real best practice for "How to build a great international brand in today's world - with nothing but extraordinary products, a decent website and a little bit PR to start the buzz..." ...but however this plays out, it is already an excellent example for how to create a Purple Cow !
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