Trends from Asia-Pacific – and why they apply to you

Trends from Asia-Pacific – and why they apply to you

Two weeks ago I had the good fortune to chair and speak at the 4th annual Internet Show in Singapore. This show draws speakers and attendees from across Asia-Pacific and features some prominent, leading brands doing some of the most exciting work in the region (if not globally). I took note of some trends and insights that are relevant and current in Asia-Pacific presently. Some of them reinforce what is happening elsewhere in the world. Others are unique to Asia-Pacific, at least for now. On the series of social media sessions that I chaired there were speakers representing enterprises of all sizes – large, global brands like McDonald‘s, regional brands like NAB in Australia, and local boutique brands like yogurt purveyor Sour Sally in Indonesia. Four key insights stood out to me as compelling.

Insight #1: Mobile = Social = Internet
Across APAC, mobile penetration tops 80 percent, and in some markets – like Hong Kong – it is over 200%. That’s two phone for every person. Same thing holds true, albeit to a lesser extend, in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

What I find really compelling is that in these markets there is comparably little desktop Internet usage, at least not from a social or digital brand perspective. Faced with lengthy commutes and strong 4G signals, the mobile Internet is the primary Internet for many consumers. 18 percent of total Web traffic in Asia is mobile, a number that will likely grow exponentially in the next 18 months.

In the US brands still often see mobile as a “+1″ environment; some marketers believe that it’s important, but it is not the primary means of interaction with their consumers. As 4G signals become more widespread in the US I believe we will continued deterioration in desktop usage. If Facebook has adopted a “mobile first” mentality, isn’t it time you consider it too? If you need a model for what that environment looks like, look no further than Asia-Pacific. There is simply no other alternative.

Insight #2: Providing actual utility, not just talking about it
Brands are talking about developing tools, processes and platforms that provide tangible and practical utility to their consumers. McDonald’s in Australia is providing supply chain information for meals based on QR code scan on the food packaging. The results show the consumer the actual place of origin for the food and in some cases, a story about the farmers. Another McDonald’s effort in Australia is an ordering app which makes it easy to place group orders and reduce queues in the store for lengthy and complex orders. Provides utility to everyone, including those consumers who benefit from not being stuck in line behind someone ordering multiple meals. That app has a 95%+ satisfaction rate among consumers and has received rave reviews. Beyond these examples there is also a lot of effort in all APAC markets around e-payments via mobile; different markets have different standards, but all are trying to find the right solution. Adoption is still challenging – less than 50% of consumers in Asia are willing to transact on their phone – but it is growing rapidly.

Insight #3: Social disintermediation
This is a very real concern for any marketer. Facebook is taking a very central position in the social playbook for many organizations. It is the hub social platform, the backbone of their social infrastructure and the first platform where they engage. This not true in every market of course, as some markets have very dominant local players. But in those markets where it is true, the challenge marketers are facing is the increasing difficulty with monetizing the platform. This is underscored by the almost relentless pursuit by Facebook to improve engagement, often at the expense of brands that are active on the platform. For one brand, recent changes to the EdgeRank platform meant they went from making line item profit on their Facebook efforts – hard ROI – to losing money on their efforts there. That has caused the company to reconsider its commitment to the platform to avoid a third-party from disintermediating its direct consumer relationship.

What is a marketer to do? Diversify. BBC is actively exploring options to break free from the Facebook platform, looking at Google+ and Twitter as alternatives for their efforts. They are also exploring creating a homegrown social solution for their Asia-Pacific media properties that mimics some of the Facebook feature sets on their own site and media networks.

Insight #4: Dumping the fake metrics
I was particularly impressed by the advanced and singular focus on KPIs, metrics and ROI analysis. Marketers have become very savvy over the last 6-9 months about the need to stop reporting on and tracking likes, shares and pins in favor of real metrics like net subscribers, retail visitor conversions and cost basis analysis for social efforts. Metrics need to be tangible and speak to the business. Facebook likes, repins and retweets do not generally address that need; they are granular, valuable primarily to the social team for purposes of improving interaction rates and content development. I saw different approaches depending on organization size but even smaller brands – like Sour Sally in Indonesia – are looking at the hard cost analysis of their focused social efforts.

I will be continuing to write about some of the case studies over the next few weeks. You can see the full agenda of presenters on the conference website.

Thinking positive in a crisis

This blog post about corporate PR disasters to avoid on Investopedia got me thinking – why do so many pundits, analysts and experts insist on taking the “avoid these PR disasters!” approach?

Certainly there is a lot to learn from the case studies in that short blog post, and we should study those closely to internalize lessons from the trenches. But I’ve been in many meetings where these case studies and more (Tylenol, Firestone) come up, everyone winces in angst and then submit to a groupthink breakdown in creativity. When you start with the frame of mind that you’re trying to avoid one thing you end up either creating another or overlooking some strategies that might have been breakthrough and helped avoid the whole problem. It constrains innovation.

For example: in the case of Goldman Sachs a series of corporate bloopers, including some bristling commentary from their CEO, led to severe public outrage against both the institution and the banking industry. Mind you, this was not created in a vacuum – the public was already outraged by the economy, the financial collapse and allegations of corporate puppetry. CEO Blankefein’s comments capped off a fairly bitter episode. Viewed from that perspective, it’s pretty bad PR and definitely leaves behind a haunting lesson for the future. The first place the mind goes in response is to “avoid that.”

View the financial crisis from a different perspective, as Huffington Post did at the end of 2009. Does your mindset shift a little, looking a little more positive? Instead of thinking about “avoiding that,” why not focus on enabling something positive?

Next time you’re stuck think about PR strategies you DO want to emulate, versus crises that herald the end of humanity. It might just change the outcome.

Friday Fodder: Agencies, are you helping yourselves?

Gary Stein writes in his ClickZ piece today about the increasing prevalence of would-be clients asking their agencies to demonstrate their social finesse, so to speak, by requesting info on the social media accounts of the team involved. Seems simple and logical, right? After all, if I’m a client I deserve to hire an agency that knows what they are talking about and can prove it.

The problem is, a lot of agencies aren’t helping themselves in this area. Many large corporations have published social media guidelines that give employees a general framework for how to behave online as an employee, and more often than not lean towards being generous in what they allow. This encourages employee participation and, from an external perspective, a perception that the brand and its employees “get it.” Intel is a great example of this.

Many agencies similarly encourage their employees to use whatever social media tools they are comfortable with, and many even provide training to help prod things along. Great. But the thing is, generally the client hires an agency as a collective whole, and while that whole is comprised of a smart group of talented individuals, the client will want to know that all that intelligence ladders back up as a team effort.

Agency leaders need to closely examine how they are using social media – collectively – to demonstrate the inspired intelligence of the people who work there. Is there a live stream of its employee’s Twitter feeds on the home page? Is there even a blog? Does the agency have a unique POV on Twitter, and have they established themselves as leaders there? The answer need not be the same – each agency has its own unique perspective to offer on the industry, and what works for some won’t for others. But simply encouraging employees to take part in social media isn’t good enough in this environment.

That’s it for this Friday Fodder: what do you think?

Friday Fodder: Changing face of reputation management

I recently re-read for a research project a 1980 Public Relations Quarterly article (available only via academic databases, apologies) about the integration of consumer affairs and issues management. One of the recommendations made by author Merrill Rose in her article is to stay abreast of emerging communications technologies. She couldn’t have predicted in 1980 the social reality of 2010, but she raised a good point, one I’ve written about a few times – the need for communications professionals to stay abreast of the technologies that shape their media environment. That’s our job and professional responsibility.

If that need to stay ahead of technology is now apparent for individuals, then the need for the organizations they serve to embrace them is equally profound. Indeed, the business of reputation management, including issues and crisis management, is now a discipline in tumult. Issues management historically has been a discipline steeped in planning and preparedness. That’s still true today, but it’s now a discipline driven by technology and scale which tests the organization’s ability to respond. Gatorade knows this and created an impressive Command Center in response. I believe that model will become the norm, although perhaps without the catchy name.

That raises the burning question every PR person, brand manager and marketer should be focused on answering – what am I doing, personally AND professionally, to be proficient at managing in this environment? That’s this Friday Fodder, and I look forward to the discussion.

Looking forward to 2012

We’re not yet halfway through December (woo!) but our attention begins to turn to assessing the year past and looking forward to the year ahead. I am closely following all of the trends that have developed in 2011 and have written about a lot of them. Assimilated here are some of my key predictions that will matter to brand leaders in 2012, in no particular order.

1. Mobile

I’m not just talking about broad “mobile growth,” which is pretty generic (although true). We’re going to see exponential growth in adoption of smartphones and tablets as well as exciting new commerce platforms that make mobile the next major retail gateway. This includes innovations on the retail side that enable them to take payments via mobile devices, a trend we’re already seeing with Google Wallet and Square. We’ll likely see the irksome world of digital coupons evolve into a platform that works for everyone in that ecosystem (retailers, POS technologies, consumers and marketers) and finally close that gap in the final frontier of the consumer couponing craze. This will bring massive scale to a marketer’s ability to develop relevant, customized and personalized offers for their consumers and to reach the middle of the adoption curve. I suspect by the end of 2012 we’ll be having very specific and frequent discussions with marketers about making mobile coupons part of their core outreach strategy.

2. Startupville

Let’s revisit a trend that repeats itself in Silicon Valley. A company, founded by quirky 20-somethings, develops something marvelous that immediately captures the imagination of millions and grows seemingly overnight, finding itself the subject of cover stories and bar conversation across the globe. Said company reaches an inflection point and decides to take the next growth step by going public. Newly funded and flush with millions (or billions) in cash, the company turns up the heat and the strain of its stratospheric growth begin to show. Meanwhile, somewhere, the cycle begins to repeat itself and a new story develops. This isn’t a perfect equation but I think many could agree it seems to be a general framework, most recently with Google and Facebook. If we believe the recent reports of Facebook’s IPO plans we’ll probably see a Facebook ticker at some point next year. That will certainly legitimize the cottage industry of developers and agencies that have built robust businesses around Facebook’s platform, and that will be a trend that continues. But I suspect we’ll also see new energy emerge at the outer reaches of that ecosystem and we’ll start to see signs of a new startup, a new story and a new thing for consumers to get excited about. Marketers, take note: you’ll want to be part of that story as early as possible. Consumers have increasingly high expectations of the brands in their lives and expect innovation even from their toilet paper brand. Be ready to pounce on opportunity.

3. Big Data

If you haven’t heard this buzzword already, chances are still good that you’re participating in it. Big Data is the accelerating emergence of massive sets of data, fueled by the social web and cloud computing, that takes equally massive amounts of computing power and expertise to mine and understand. If you’re doing sentiment analysis or tracking word clouds of conversation around your brand online, you’re already taking advantage of Big Data. Analyst firm IDC says this is an area where companies must have a develop a competency in 2012 (http://gigaom.com/cloud/its-cloud-prediction-time-idc-gartner-and-i-weigh-in/). I’d generally agree. I am seeing PR firms, digital agencies, brand teams and consumer relations teams taking advantage of Big Data now and that’s a trend that will accelerate rapidly early in 2012. It’s a competitive advantage to put that data to use for your brand, with a caveat…

4. Privacy

All that data in the cloud comes with inherent privacy concerns and none are more sensitive than a consumer’s personal information, credit card details or location. As brands have begun experimenting with the trends around Big Data, it’s leaving the heads of their legal teams spinning. I predict that brands and agencies will take a cautious stance toward emerging channels that require heavy personal information to participate (see trend #1, Mobile) until they can be assured that the necessary infrastructure is in place to protect that data. But it won’t take years for that process and 2012 will be the year many of those questions find accurate and permanent answers.


New wrinkle in Facebook advertising

Photo credit: Rob Pongsajapan

I wrote in January about the new Facebook advertising product – Sponsored Stories – that takes mentions a user makes of a product or service and allows advertisers to recapture that content and serve it up as an ad unit to the same user’s own Facebook community. It’s sort of a pseudo-endorsement product and Facebook contends that it respects privacy boundaries since it is only shown to your existing network which, ostensibly, would have seen the original comment anyway.

Fast forward to May. Facebook CTO Bret Taylor got a grilling in DC this week on privacy-related issues related to age and protection of minors. This same week, new criticisms emerged related to the Sponsored Stories product. The critics claim that since Facebook does not have built-in age verification (witness the reported 7 million-plus minors on the service in the US), there is no way for a parent or guardian to give consent for images to be used for advertising purposes. That violates the spirit, if not the letter, of state laws requiring adultconsent for usage of a person’s name or likeness.

This creates a legal quandary for marketers. We want to push the innovation envelope and tap new sources of innovation for building brands and sustaining interest in products and services. Products like Facebook’s advertising suite give us a very rich source of fairly turn-key solutions to do just that. But if it turns out that we’re reaching minors, will we be culpable? This is an area where I have witnessed marketing innovations teams and corporate legal do battle many times. The marketing teams want to rush in and capture the opportunity before the competition; lawyers want to study the issues and ensure there are no landmines about to be tripped.

I’m on the side of the marketer in most of those cases and generally my advice is this: start with something small and don’t try to reinvent everything in one big bite. If you want to test new ad units on Facebook, try testing it on a smaller product category rather than your core product. Partner closely with your legal team and learn together. I have often witnessed a marketing team go to their legal counterparts for blessing on a big new plan only to get a frustrating “smack down” and walk away. Remember that there are multiple legal issues at stake with social channels. Go bravely into the sun.

Status updates, get your status updates! For sale here

Note: this is cross-posted on the Threshold Interactive blog.

Facebook today launched a new feature for advertisers that repackages certain social actions on the network – say, a check-in at your favorite retail outlet – into a “Sponsored Stories” ad unit that will run in the right hand column on the site. Facebook has attempted to sidestep privacy criticisms by building a users’ privacy settings to the ad distribution – that is, only those friends within your network who would have already seen your check-in or other social action will be eligible to see the ad bearing your name and likeness.

This is a big step for advertisers as they will be willingly absolving themselves of the creative unit – context and content will be determined by the user who penned the status update in the first place. That is a fairly significant mindset shift for a lot of advertisers.

The bigger question here is the potential impact of this announcement on users. Facebook has a track record of challenging privacy issues including its now infamous Beacon program that was shuttered in 2009. Sponsored Stories is bound to draw criticisms stemming from the inability to opt out of being featured in an ad, and questions about whether Facebook can sell and profit from the written word of its members in this manner.

Of particular note to that last point – Facebook expressly prohibits users themselves from leveraging their personal profiles for commercial gain. This is a clause from its current Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:

So Facebook can sell status updates (or the sponsoring of said updates) to an advertiser, but users themselves are not allowed. There is a delicious irony there that is bound to be the target of attention in the next few weeks. Stay tuned for the ensuing debate.

Here is the full Facebook video with additional details.

Fulfilling your brand’s destiny through technology

Mashable continued its “future of social media” series last week with a story about ad agencies and technology, proselytizing bold advances in location-based marketing and group buying. The most interesting of the trends highlighted in the piece, though, is this: software is the new medium.

Software – and, by extension, the underlying technology from which it is derived – will be the single key contributor to a brand’s success from this point forward. The role of a brand manager is rapidly evolving along with all of the agencies that serve it into a blend of IT manager, brand marketer, consumer relations expert and PR person. There are so many ways that technology can boldly empower an organization to become an exciting, customer-driven entity. Agencies, too, are morphing into fascinating shops where hack-a-thons, aggressive experimentation, applet development and software engineers join brand experts to bring true innovation to their client work.

I have picked up some tips in my career that are useful for navigating these new territories, experience applicable to both agencies and brands. In no particular order, summarized in a concise 3-tip package:

1. Know thy limits
As cliche as it sounds, the ideas and engagements enabled by technology truly are essentially limitless and know no bounds. However, the ability for a brand and/or its agencies to execute them generally is not limitless, and is bounded by a variety of externalities. FTC disclosures, privacy policies, time, budget, the economy – all of these can have a direct impact on the ability to push an idea from inception to execution. I’ve seen so many outstanding ideas die simply because they were not grounded in reality.

Agencies can be particularly guilty of this tendency. For example, in the rush to pitch new business and wow a new client, an agency team will devise a devilishly-smart campaign comprised of some pretty advanced technology that does not exist in the marketplace. The new client, impressed by the agency’s creativity and bold thinking, signs on for the work only to find out that the team who pitched it didn’t do a reality-check. Either their capabilities to build it were overstated, or in truth it’s far too advanced for time or budget to allow and would require an army of developers. The idea then gets stripped down to a simpler core that the client feels less inspired by but is obligated to fulfill. Now, you might be saying to yourselves – “technology doesn’t evolve without ideas that push the envelope of absurdity and cause disruption,” and I could not agree more. What you need to be asking yourselves is this – “is my organization (or my client) that bold pioneer?” And particularly for agencies, know precisely how you will scope out and execute an idea before risking your client falling in love with it.

2. Know thy consumer
Technology does not abate the need for all those smart segmentation insights you’ve amassed over the years. An Apple consumer will have very different technology needs and interests from a Clorox consumer although their motivations may be similar. Innovation only works when it’s executed in direct alignment to your consumer and sometimes you have to be willing to just ask them what they’d like.

For example, if you’ve started to think about the role of mobile in your brand’s story arc you need to understand the platforms that are of interest to your consumer. Are they iPhone users who are heavy gamers and would salivate over a sexy game that you give them for free? Or, are they household organizers who relish saving time in their chores, and would respond to a simple SMS-based daily tips program? Brands left and right are launching iPhone apps, when in truth they might be faced with a consumer who skews more to being an iPod Touch and flip phone user. The success of the technology you deploy will be dependent on these insights so be aggressive about discovering them.

3. Be nimble, not obsessive
The thing that excites a lot of people about technology is the pace of its evolution. In the computer chip industry there is a law – called Moore’s Law – that defines the capacity of the processors that make up computing devices. Essentially, the capacity of these chips doubles every two years meaning that their associated functions – such as processing power, memory and speed – double with that capacity. That means the chips you are developing software for today will be replaced in 24 months with something twice as fast. It also means that whatever cool tool you’ve developed today will have an exceptionally limited shelf life, probably much less than 24 months. How can you use this insight to your advantage?

Think in terms of outcomes. There will always be something faster and newer and there will be new devices that require altogether new formats. You can leverage this to your advantage by creating a brand organization that values this innovation versus seeing it as an obstacle, and creating an agency network that isn’t steeped in just one technology. What you want to be looking to achieve is the creation of an innovation ecosystem in which amazing ideas develop and marching orders are written to go find ways to get them done. What you want to avoid is getting too invested in any one platform that will force your hand in future decisions, and prevent you from porting over all of the innovations you have amassed.

These are three pretty simple insights but they’re areas where I consistently see brands and agencies going down the wrong path. Time will sort out a lot of this noise but by consistently asking these questions you will keep your brand (or client) centered and steady.

Friday Fodder: Are you ready for a mobile nation?

So much has been said and written about mobile lately that it almost seems passé to even suggest that it’s news. After all, nearly 2 billion people globally access the Internet via their mobile device. Morgan Stanley predicted in a recent study that mobile usage of the Internet will surpass desktop within 5 years.

And yet, a new study from Pew this week might suggest there are nuggets of news to be discovered here. Over the past 9 months, usage of SMS has increased among adults about 10 percent, suggesting that parents are catching up with their teenage children (who still reign supreme in speed texting, no doubt). The Pew study also confirms past data that Hispanic and African-American adults are more likely than caucasians to own a mobile device and use it for texting.

That’s the topic for this Friday Fodder: What does this mean for your organization? Are you ready for the reality of mobile? Is your organization even thinking about mobile as part of the marketing mix?

Making your way on Facebook

If you don’t follow PR on Facebook, you should. The resource – published by Facebook’s own internal PR team – is essentially free advice on tactics that you can deploy as a communications professional that leverages Facebook’s 500 million unique users. It’s a must-read.

For example, they shared today a list of 40-or-so Facebook developers that shines with some brilliant minds. These are companies that can help your brand execute exciting work on Facebook, engage with your stakeholders and drive conversations. I know a lot of the folks on the list and am particularly fond of the teams at Sprout and Buddy Media.

PR on Facebook is helpful, and the list of developers is a great place to start. But do you know why you’re engaging there in the first place? Scroll through the agencies that list price ranges and you might suffer some sticker shock. Some list ranges from $5k-500k, others from $50-500k. Those represent large investments for a single platform but there are very good reasons to consider them in your marketing mix. Before you jump on the phone, sit down and ask yourself (and your teams, including agencies) what you’ll be trying to accomplish with that phone call. Think first about the strategy then the results of that breakthrough innovation will get your whole executive team excited for more.

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