The Heardable name speaks to the underlying human desire to make our voices be heard. Most of us crave to make a difference; we want our opinions to have an audience; we want people to admire us. But if we post a blog article, participate in a social network, publish a website, construct a landing page, or launch an online marketing campaign—will anyone listen, respond, or even care? Yes, but only if you are found, visible, heard.
Heardable believes that helping companies understand what's preventing their brands from being heard is the critical first step in being able to take action to improve one's Heardability. Embracing the spirit of brand transparency is a smart first step.
The 10 Commandments of Brand Transparency
1. An understanding that being responsive to customers is paramount—and this must be backed up with service level agreements that know no boundaries, channel barriers, or time constraints.
2. Recognition that the online experience you provide is your brand. Great first experiences, like the theoretical ripple effect of a butterfly’s wings, are the catalyst for something larger, positive, profound, and influential that associates a company with trust.
3. Admission that honesty and transparency trumps double-talk and corporate babble-speak. In fact, it’s this real discussion (warts and all) that constituents crave.
4. Have a network of smart employees, marketers, agencies, and customers who prompt consumers to interact because they know that will increase the likelihood that consumers will transact.
5. Have the foresight and knowledge that customer engagement means more than launching an online discussion board, it comes organically through enabling valuable and motivating experiences at every touch point.
6. Have an empathetic staff that question what they do for a living and then juxtapose this against what they know their constituents actually need from them—implementing beneficial solutions as a result.
7. An appreciation that new web analytics and measurement tools need to speak to where the visitor is going, and not merely to ‘where the puck is’. Conversely, measurement systems still need to know where the visitor came from and why. Additionally, a recognition that web analytics is not and will neve be, optimization.
8. Acknowledgement that user-generated content diffuses corporate governance and editorial authority, but if embraced, it can be leveraged in a way that becomes an extension of a brand.
9. Have an innate ability to leverage their connections in order to give back—and to do good. After all, reciprocity is is the invisibile fuel that powers the phenomenon known as social media.
10. Realize that effective word of mouth campaigns cannot be manufactured. They tend to be spontaneous, honest and truly viral events that incorporate humor, oddities, insider news, the taboo or the just plain awe-inspiring.
According to Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's fame, people should 'never trust a skinny ice cream man.' It a humorous quote with ominous underpinnings. The Heardable Team wondered...should consumers trust an ice cream brand with a low Heardable Score?
Just a refresher...a Heardable Score tells us how well an online brand's performance is doing in real-time, examining over 20 unique on-site and 20 off-site brand variables, including a website’s code, connectivity, usability, social presence, and other unique characteristics that that make up one’s heardability.
The highest possible Heardable Score that can be achieved is 1000. Scoring bands roughly breakout as follows:
0-200 = Poor
201-400 = Below average
401-600 = Average
601-800 = Above average
801-1000 = Excellent
We poked around and scanned a short-list of 18 major ice cream brands and here were the results:
dairyqueen.com - 397
friendlys.com - 336
benjerry.com - 300
dippindots.com - 265
baskin-robbins.com - 246
coldstonecreamery.com - 240
tcby.com - 234
pinkberry.com - 180
tastee-freez.com - 165
farrellsusa.com - 164
haagen-dazs.com - 157
carvel.com - 149
dreyers.com - 145
itsiticecream.com - 141
icecreamusa.com (Breyers, Good Humor, Klondike, Popsicle) - 136
braums.com - 76
swensens.com - 66
fostersfreeze.com - 63
Dairy Queen scored a win for the highest Heardable Score at 397. Still a low score when compared to other leading brands from across all other categories, but Dairy Queen blew away its confectionery competitors. The company maintains a killer blog, with lots of social participation endeavors readily apparent. DairyQueen.com garnered 205,017 visits in chilly November, 2009, the third highest visitor numbers for any first on our ice cream brand list.* Additionally, Dairy Queen is creaming its competition with a whopping 732,807 Facebook fans.
Friendly's Ice Cream seems to have embraced an integrated online and offline communications strategy in 2009 to fully integrate its promotional activities. According to various online press write-ups about its online marketing efforts, Friendly's "Free Ice Cream Day" promotion saw Friendly's giving away more than 500,000 scoops of free ice cream by talking up the event through sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. With 265,736 visits to its corporate website in November 2009, Friendlys.com has the second highest number of website visits of all ice cream brands.
Ben & Jerry's brand has been involved with environmental and social activism since its founding back in 1985. It's only natural to assume that its Heardable Score of 300 is partly a result of the social media conversations around its brand and the corresponding links back to it website. Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc., has 990,411 Facebook fans.
One Heardable anomaly is Cold Stone Creamery. It finished in the #5 position according to Heardable Score. At 240 out of 1,000, the brand did not appear to be a standout. But according to Compete.com, their website generated 393,704 visits in November 2009. Cold Stone's high number of inbound links at 53,239, a reasonable amount of indexed pages at 399, and a Page Rank of 6, are all signs of a smart SEO strategy -- which could be one of the reasons this brand's site traffic is so much higher that its competitors. Another factor could be Facebook. With 247,867 fans, social recognition seems to be doing some good. The firm was also a sponsor of Perez Hilton's 31st birthday party at The Viper Room on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles. The links (and traffic) from PerezHilton.com seem to coincide with a spike in site traffic starting in April 2009.
Baskin-Robbins seems like the online brand that time forgot. With a measly 3,067 site visits in November 2009, Baskin-Robbins.com seems to be in need of some TLC.
* Site visit stats courtesy of Compete.com
In 1687, a coffee house opened on Tower Street in London. As it was located near the riverfront, it become popular for traders and seafarers. Owner Edward Lloyd provided helpful information to his patrons on a large blackboard, such as updated lists of the arriving and departing dates of cargo ships. The dimly lit java house provided the perfect environment to negotiate insurance for ocean voyages. Captains, brokers, and underwriters came for the coffee, and for the deals. Although he never sold insurance, Edward Lloyd's name become synonymous with insuring the uninsurable.
Over 300 years later, Lloyd's of London is still going strong. According to its website, 'Lloyd's is the world's best known - but probably least understood - insurance brand. This is because Lloyd's is not an insurance company but a society of members, both corporate and individual, who underwrite in syndicates on whose behalf professional underwriters accept risk. Supporting capital is provided by investment institutions, specialist investors, international insurance companies and individuals.'
While Lloyd's may be an underwriting powerhouse, it's website and online brand presence could use some improvement. For example, it's website is a stoic Web 1.0 site -- lot's of quality content, simple navigation, as well as helpful features. But when compared to a Web 2.0 site, or when you consider how today's leading brands extend their content & brand presence beyond the site itself, Lloyd's brand comes up short.
Lloyds.com's Heardable Score is 271/1000, which means that its brand and website are performing below average.
We did not detect a mobile-friendly version of their main website. To make the brand more portable, Lloyd's might want to enhance the experience of site visitors who choose to access the site via hand held devices.
Lloyds.com has a low customer focus ratio, meaning the website speaks about your company more often than it does about the visitor. Lloyd's may want to consider re-writing its content using more visitor-focused words since studies have shown the websites using more visitor-focused words such as 'you' and 'your' connecting better with customers.
Lloyd's doesn't seem to have much of a social media presence -- which means people are likely discussing this brand online but the brand is not a very active participant in the conversation. This is dangerous for a brand in today's world, since search engines value everyday brand conversations nearly as much as the branded content that appears on an official branded website. The long term ripple effect on natural search results could be detrimental to a major brand like Lloyd's.
Surprisingly, Lloyds.com has only 36,861 inbound links to its website. Considering the company has been in existence since 1688, one would think that it's website would have hundreds of thousands of inbound links (which can be of great benefit to SEO).
The firm does other things well. If reputation is a business's most important asset, Lloyd's is truly rich indeed. It's brand is analogous to words like promise, security, and guarantee. And the firm is busy modernizing itself, recently launching an electronic exchange system called The Lloyd’s Exchange to 'simplify the insurance process, provide greater efficiency and transparency, and give its members a competitive advantage.'
I guess you can say that the myth about businesses is true -- behind every successful company is a substantial amount of coffee.
Douglas A. McIntyre wrote a compelling article on 24/7 Wall St titled, "Twelve Major Brands That Will Disappear (in 2010)." McIntyre cites the recession and mergers as the primary reasons his list of 'endangered brands' might not make it through the end of the year. The team at Heardable decided to test a hypothosis: Can our Heardable Scores predict which of the 12 brands cited in McIntyre's article are most likely to fail--and why?
The five brands from McIntyre's list we think are at greatest risk to fail in 2010 based on low Heardable Scores are:
Here are the remaining brands at risk in 2010:
Most of the brands noted above are doing several things ineffectively when it comes to generating a quality Heardable Score. Lack of shareable website elements (such as RSS feeds), poor search engine best practices, lack of a branded social presence, plus missing mobile-friendly site interfaces were top reasons cited for brands scoring poorly.
By studying all 12 firm's Heardable Scores and delving into McIntyre's analysis of each brand, it's easy to see why each of the 12 companies appear to be at risk of going under in 2010. Their brands are much less visible online that other leading brands. Online brand optimization may be crucial to their success.
Is one's Heardable Score indicative of brand's success or failure? Perhaps not. But our scores just may be tell tale signs worth monitoring at a strategic level.
What's A Heardable Score?
A Heardable Score tells us how well an online brand's performance is doing at this very moment, examining over 20 unique on-site and over 20 off-site brand variables, including a website’s code, connectivity, usability, social presence, and other unique characteristics that that make up one’s heardability.
The highest possible Heardable Score that can be achieved is 1000. Scoring bands roughly breakout as follows:
0-200 = Poor
201-400 = Below average
401-600 = Average
601-800 = Above average
801-1000 = Excellent
Many people are wondering whether the recent Tiger Woods scandal has damaged the endorsement game. Short term damage? Yes. Long term? Don't bet on it. However, if you're one of the dozen or so corporate sponsors currently associating your brand with Tiger's tarnished image, you may be playing with a loaded gun. Your hard earned brand may be at risk.
Team Heardable decided to take a look at 11 firms currently tied to the $100 million a year wunderkind to see whose brand was at the greatest risk to being associated with the sport star's extramarital escapades. We scanned each sponsor's URL to generate a Heardable Score, did some Google News research, then assessed how susceptible each brand might be if they continued their sponsorship deals with Tiger Woods.
Top 5 Most Vulnerable Brands Tied to Tiger Woods
1. Gillette: With a Heardable Score of 579, Gillette's brand is at higher risk than most other brands sponsoring Tiger. It would be surprising if Gillette didn't reassess its entire sponsorship of Tiger Woods. According to published press reports, they are back peddling a bit. Barkies!
2. Nike Golf: Nike finds itself in a bit of a sand trap. They built an entire golf line around Tiger Woods. Finding an advertising replacement akin the "The One" will be next to impossible. A Heardable Score of 567 is not something most brands can afford to put at risk for very long. A pitching wedge and a fine approach shot may be needed here. Nike Golf will probably hang with Tiger until he returns to golf. Look for Nike to work with Tiger to re-brand their entire golf line when the time is right.
3. Accenture: Accenture's tagline is “High Performance. Delivered." The firm has a Heardable Score of 499. As of December 2009, Accenture dropped Tiger Woods from all their advertising. This brand has spoken.
4. EA Sports: A Heardable Score of 275 means that EA Sports will be somewhat concerned about associating its brand with Tiger. But EA is so diversified in the types of sports and professional athletes it's associated with, it's in a good position no matter what it decides to do.
5. Upper Deck: Sports trading card company, Upper Deck, is somewhat exposed as well, since they are a lesser known brand whose endorsement of Tiger plays a prominent role in the firm's overall marketing campaign. Woods has been Upper Deck's exclusive golf spokesman and autograph signer for nearly 10 years. That said, Upper Deck's Heardable Score of 270 is not terribly strong, so their online brand is at less risk to sustained damage (in our humble estimation).
Six Other Brands Currently Sponsoring Tiger Woods Are A Little Less Vulnerable
6. TAG Heuer: The brand that links its watches to Tiger, asking consumers, "What are you made of?" has a Heardable Score of 249. The current ad campaign is likely to disappear. Long term association with Tiger is questionable.
7. AT&T: A Heardable Score of 236 is pretty weak. But AT&T has so many alternative endorsement options. Look for this brand to back off of Tiger in favor of more positive fairways. Update on 12/13/09 - AT&T cuts ties with Tiger Woods. The telecommunications giant issued a brief statement, saying "We wish him well in the future."
8. TLC Laser Eye Centers: Heardable Score of 203. A spokesperson for TLC said, "Our relationship with Tiger Woods continues without change." TLC Vision filed for bankruptcy protection on Dec 21, 2009. Hmmm.
9. Gatorade Tiger: Gatorade has a thirst for success. With a Heardable Score of 162, their online brand is not at great performer, nor is it at great risk. Look for them to simply drop this tainted drink for the next flavor of the moment.
10. Tatweer - The Tiger Woods Dubai: No great brand risk here. A 146 Heardable Score means this brand is not very visible online anyway.
11. NetJets: The luxury aviation company has a measly Heardable Score of 135. The risk to it's brand standing is low. In fact, this brand may actually benefit from all of the "negative" press spotlight, since not many people were mentioning the brand previously.
A microsite is generally agreed to be a trackable, marketing website that has a unique URL and a limited number of 'pages' in which to navigate. The content focus of a microsite tends to be separate and apart from a brand's main website. An example would be Cavemanscrib.com (the microsite) and it relationship to its parent company website (Geico.com). Another microsite example is Mortgage.com and its relationship to its parent brand, Citi.com.
Friends of Heardable have helped us identify a short list of key learnings that can be applied to most (but perhaps not all) successfully deployed microsites. Some of these insights have to do with design, others with SEO, and still others with site functionality.
Engaging, interactive brand microsites don't need to follow all of these rules, but this list of best practices might help you jumpstart your microsite development efforts. Enjoy!
Microsite Best Practices
1. Short URL: Have short, easy to remember URL is critical if you expect users to remember the site address
2. SEO: Sites should be built according to SEO best practices (keyword focus, title tags, navigation structure, linking, ADA compliance, image tags, etc)
3. Mobile-Friendly: If possible, your microsite should be easily accessible from any portable browser to expand the reach of your content / message
4. Site Map: Include a site map (so both humans and search engines can easily navigate)
5. Analytics: Enable end-to-end lead tracking (onsite behavior analytics + offsite brand analytics) for robust campaign reporting
6. Above The Fold: Your primary offer / call to action should be above the fold since content below the scroll isn't always seen by your visitors
7. Copy That Speaks to Visitors: Text copy should be written to address customer needs & POV (Use ‘You’ and ‘My’)
8. Shorter Column Width or Two Columns of Text: Optimum column width for text is between 39 and 52 characters
9. Scanable Content: Make the page layout scanable because web readers browse the content instead of reading every line (bullet points can help)
10. Actionable: Each page should function as its own landing page (to help convert visits to leads) since most users don't enter a site from the home page
11. Use DR: Include direct response elements to draw users attention to specific calls to action (arrows to draw the eye, yellow highlighter, bold, larger 800#, etc)
12. Human Imagery: Include a helpful human face on each page (or at least the home page) as visitors respond at higher rates when they relate to an experience
13. Descriptive Button Text: Buttons that describe the outcome of the action see higher click rates (ex: Download Free Book or Buy Now)
14. Usability: Include usability tools such as text resizing feature, print this page, social links, RSS feeds, phone number, and email addresson every page
15. Consistent Design: Use stylesheets to keep fonts consistent across browser types
16. Security or Trust Marks: Include a trust / security mark on each page (they allay user fears & boost conversions)
17. Calls To Action: Include multiple calls to action in multiple locations on the same page to increase conversions
18. Site Search Tool: Onsite search helps visitors find what they are looking for faster and is sometimes preferred over traditional navigation
19. Various Content Formats: Both humans and search spiders love content published in various formats (images, video, audio, text, PDF, slideshows, etc)
20. User Generated Content: Sprinkling testimonials and user reviews into your site can instill user confidence + boost response rates
Here is a fun way to kick off the new year -- a list of 36 SEO best practices to share with Heardable readers culled from conversations with various friends working at ad agencies, SEO firms, and successful online brands.
Having come from the agency, brand and technology worlds, the Heardable team collectively looks at marketing as a business function that, in this wild and wooly landscape, requires deeper thinking, adaptability and innovation.
The agency model has certainly changed, and will continue to. Agencies no longer just create ads, they are expected to develop long-term strategies, garner stronger insights, and more importantly, they must have a better understanding of business needs. Most CMOs have a short tether with which to produce results -- most often 18-24 months on average -- and this requires not only their agencies to be quick-footed, but they themselves must have a better command of research and information that they can actually use to connect with consumers.
We're not an agency per se, but at Heardable, we consider ourselves to be faciliators for brands and agencies alike. For a brand, working with select partners can be very productive, as well as complementary. For one, outside vendors are able to look at things like process and development with a truly objective frame of mind. For another, interagency groups, for the most part, tend to defer the opinions of an outside person provided that they are empowered to participate effectively and proactively. Naturally, this is not an easy feat, especially at larger agencies, but it can be done successfully no less. Ultimately, it is healthy for brands to work with agencies of all types and sizes because they can garner new perspectives on business culture and pick the brains of some really smart people.
In regard to outsourcing, agencies rarely reveal 3rd parties, nor do they usually have them act as client-facing resources -- although, in many cases in which indepenent consultants are hired, they are almost always asked to be included in, or to help run, new business or new project pitches, especially if it involves interactive or technology development, or new product launches. As far as 'white-labeling' goes, this happens in its own way; there are a bunch of great development outfits that do work for a host of global agencies you've definitely heard of, and it seems as though clients don't care just as long as the work is good and completed on time. The reality is that in today's environment, most agencies can't possibly house all of these offerings under one roof and make their margins, so outsourcing is an inevitability. Ideally, when an outside vendor is engaged, the agency will have a predetermined budget in mind and scope laid out, although there are plenty of instances where these variables cannot be determined without issuing an RFP or soliciting multiple bids. This, as you might imagine, is also one of the problem areas for outsourcing since vendors can be low-balled in this process and not be inclined to produce their best work. With that said, price, reputation and relationships compel agencies to work with other vendors to meet a client's needs.
So what can a Marketing Director, CMO or a CEO look for in a new agency relationship?
1. The ability to build business solutions, rather than just marketing campaigns.
2. The opportunity to develop products in a collaborative environment.
3. The ability to offer internal best practices & staffing management in order to improve outbound efforts.
4. A solid command of technology solutions and how they can empower internal and external communications.
5. A solid commmand of cultural insights & how they can connect influencers and brand advocates.
As much as we encourage brands of all types to immerse themselves in the social web and engage in conversations, brands must also rethink their partnerships with bloggers. The FTC recently reissued a list of self-regulation guidelines, as well as a fine structure for those who do not properly disclose these affiliations.
The following is a constructive look at the FTC regulation of blogs and other social media. Since there is a clear disconnect between legal and creative license, these insights are told through the perspectives of both a blogger and an attorney.
We'll examine modern examples provided by the FTC to illustrate its revised guidelines.
The question is, given the examples and the guidelines that the FTC derives there from, can the above-average blogger (let alone the everyday blogger) understand and conform their communications accordingly? And even if the blogger can't evaluate them from a legal or liability perspective, might they provide guidance and improvement nonetheless?
FTC Example 5
A skin care products advertiser participates in a blog advertising service. The service matches up advertisers with bloggers who will promote the advertiser's products on their personal blogs. The advertiser requests that a blogger try a new body lotion and write a review of the product on her blog.
Although the advertiser does not make any specific claims about the lotion's ability to cure skin conditions and the blogger does not ask the advertiser whether there is substantiation for the claim, in her review the blogger writes that the lotion cures eczema and recommends the product to her blog readers who suffer from this condition.
FTC Position: Advertiser and blogger are both responsible for blogger's (1) false or unsubstantiated statements and (2) failure to disclose clearly that she is being paid for her services.
Blogger Position: The FTC recommends that advertisers should train and monitor their bloggers, but will bloggers live in fear that their statements are not sufficiently substantiated and hold their tongues?
It seems that the most pre-emptive way to avoid the substantiation snafu is to qualify or preface any threads with a set of personal guidelines. While this may conflict with the more random nature of blog threads, it could establish etiquette that is top-of-mind. Further, this would engender a type of social responsibility that could be spread throughout the blogging community at large.
FTC Example 7
A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert maintains a personal blog where he posts entries about his gaming experiences. Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game hardware and software.
As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review.
FTC Position: The reader is unlikely to expect that the blogger received the game for free, and this would impact his review. The Blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge.
Blogger Position: Should a blogger always have to disclose when they received a free sample? Would it matter whether a manufacturer a) targeted a particular blogger; b) sent samples to random video testers; c) gave samples to everyday people at a conference or d) handed samples out to people at a trade show? Would it matter whether the site was hosted by a) the manufacturer or b) a student?
This poses a curious and considerable debate over the free exchange of ideas, and cross-posting or cross-linking in particular. In other words, one man's roost is not necessarily another man's fodder. With respect to content, it seems necessary that the original blogger qualify the "spread" of information, and to the best of his abilities, credit those in his affiliate network of sites with the potential legitimacy of a product's credibility. From a product standpoint, it also seems fair to say that "neutral" links should be provided that show those product specs in an indifferent light. Ultimately, self-imposed qualifiers can help regulate within environments that have varying guidelines.
FTC Example 8
An online message board designated for discussions of new music download technology is frequented by MP3 player enthusiasts. They exchange information about new products, utilities, and the functionality of numerous playback devices.
Unbeknownst to the message board community, an employee of a leading playback device manufacturer has been posting messages on the discussion board promoting the manufacturer's product.
FTC Position: Unclear, but the implication is that there would be liability for nondisclosure by the employee. The Poster should clearly and conspicuously disclose her employment by the manufacturer to members and readers of the message board.
Blogger Position: If an employer has a blog, should they be required to have a social media policy? Should they be liable if they don't? What if the employee disobeys the social media policy, should the employer be liable then?
These scenarios are certainly not uncommon, and a social media policy does not preclude an employee from liability or great risk to his or her reputation as a blogger. The key here seems to be that both the employee and employer need to construct a shared risk arrangement in which proper editorial monitoring is conducted, along with structured milestones that include issue management guidelines. Again, full disclosure is paramount to not only building trust among community members, but also in helping to define corporate outreach policies that may still be nascent.
FTC Example 9
A young man signs up to be part of a street team program in which points are awarded each time a team member talks to his or her friends about a particular advertiser's products. Team members can then exchange their points for prizes, such as concert tickets or electronics.
FTC Position: The rewards program impacts the credibility of the endorsements. The rewards should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed, and the advertiser needs to make sure of this.
Blogger Position: How can the advertiser ensure the necessary disclosures are being made?
A company can't really play watchdog over conversations that occur in the street and expect its message to spread organically. However, if the incentive program includes very detailed milestones that reflect various potential outcomes by virtue of these conversations, then the risk is greatly mitigated. In other words, the milestones define the disclosure guidelines. The thinking here is that if a product garners enough attention through word of mouth, the conversation will inevitably change, and therefore the representative -- on behalf of the brand -- has ample opportunity to course-correct messaging and/or respective content positioning.
In all scenarios, a definable and adaptable sense of social responsibility is required to ensure the credibility and protection of all parties and products involved. And while the unpredictability of blog or social conversations can be a wonderful alternative to the more intrusive nature of advertising messages, we are still in the infancy stages of what this all means for brands, bloggers, and consumers alike. We must defer to good personal judgment and work together to establish parameters that allow for self-expression in ways that are positive and proactive.
In thinking of Heardable as a truly actionable market research tool, we wanted to share part of a conversation we had with a marketing executive from a well-known financial institution who, until he spoke with us, was unaware of the potential in using social media and other forms of digital outreach to connect with his consumer targets and drive sales.
We ran our comparative analysis tool with his brand and five others in the category, and then used these data-points to make discoveries about the category, as well as those who were using these forms of outreach in successful ways.
Here's an excerpt.
If you consider the financial category to include 'financial services' and 'banking', we can name three brands straight away - despite regulatory challenges - that have used social marketing incredibly well to not only create engagement but activate purchase intent:
- Wells Fargo
- H&R Block
- Credit Mutuel
The problems social media help financial companies to solve include:
- establishing newly found trust amongst a skeptical consumers base
- allowing consumers to understand the perspective of the institutions
- instilling fiscal responsibility and smarter spending habits
- making the right loan choices
- making stronger investment decisions
- empowering consumers with tools for managing their assets
- building community around common interests & brand affinities
- understanding the broader context of financial culture and global market parity
The real takeway from this conversation and the insights we garnered is that Heardable is a conduit in developing strong marketing intelligence. Having this type of holisitic purview, as well as the capability to do more qualitative and quantitative research is an incredibly powerful asset that we want you to have at your disposal.
Recently, we were asked by an outside consultancy to shed some light on how a certain retailer could better connect with teens (sorry, we're under a gag order as to protect the parties involved and their marketing IP). This consultancy is working directly with the CMO and the CEO in order to develop a stronger content strategy that can be used to enhance their current outreach, and this is a great example of how the Heardable tool can be directly applied to a brand's ongoing marketing efforts.
After running our comparative analysis tool, showing this particular retailer's presence alongside others in the category, here's what we came up with; the following is an abridged version of our findings.
To start, our tool showed some critical areas of potential improvement:
- Interesting social content
- Shareable and portable information
- User archetypes & affinities
- An ongoing brand story
If you want to keep teens out of other stores, you need to look beyond a campaign construct and build real social currency - things that are indelible and everlasting.
For example, what is a touch-point or a market need that this technographic shares? What do their behaviors lend to at different times of the day? How do they feel in a school environment when they're amongst their peer group?
Maybe it's something along the lines of personal stories these teens can share with each other in a dynamic form of expression - like online video - that showcases a talent or a unique skill. Perhaps it can fuse things that they learn within the curriculum that might change their views of what is 'required' of them on a daily basis and allows them to exchange ideas via aspirational dialogues when they get home and before they go to bed at night.
Kohl's has successfully done this through their lifestyle positioning (check the link to their recent case study) and other retailers like Target have been doing this over the last several years.
- An ongoing narrative (teens talking to teens about being unique); in this case, "My Fashion Story"
- An extended community through social graphs; connecting groups by location, profile and common interests
- Tools with which to express (video, music, commentary, pictures, etc.)
- Events like concerts, but involving teens and getting them to participate
- Interesting utilities and applications that make these exchanges portable -- such as a "Create An Event" widget
- Ultimately, create a new cultural value system; in this case, an incentive program where teens earn points by earning good grades
One last thing to remember is that, for the most part, destination websites (microsites especially) are becoming things of the past. Most engagement and hyperactivity occurs on and through the social and digital channels themselves. You can drive people to the site, but unless you have a tremendous amount of brand equity and relevance in the marketplace right now, advocacy can only occur in places where and when these teens are talking to each other.
As you an see, Heardable is designed to serve as the ultimate brand utility -- we encourage you to work alongside of us so that we can create deeper insights that help you leverage your brand awareness and create more innovative ways to engage your technographic targets.
Most sites, at least as we know them -- save for Facebook & FriendFeed to a large extent -- don't actually aggregate your social visibility, because, as we like to reinforce in a lot of the material we write about, people are loyal to information, not places or destinations. Specific utilities allow your content to be portable and allow people to follow you across the social web.
Allow us to explain ;)
First off, we should make the important distinction between conversation aggregators such as ping.fm, TweetDeck, Seesmic or HootSuite, monitoring platforms such as Brands in Public, eCairn, TNS Cymfony or Radian6 and a true social content aggregators such as Facebook, FriendFeed,Tumblr, Posterous or NING. The latter group are often confused for social networks, but in fact they are really utilities that are conduits for people to share content. Conversation aggregators are really tools for managing interactions with the people we follow or those who follow us. Monitoring platforms provide deeper brand and topical sentiment and social search capabilities that allow us to mine for more relevant or more robust conversational opportunities.
A platform such as Google Wave endeavors to combine the characteristics of all three of the aforementioned, by mashing up profiles (Google Profiles), conversational utility (Google Sidewikis), as well as collaborative features and aggregation along with analytics (Google Caffeine, Google Social Search + Google Analytics). At present not all of these features or modules are synced up, but they will be soon enough.
PeopleBrowsr is also an interesting platform because it combines all of these same elements without the stronger profiling elements.
Additionally, keep in mind that aggregation tools such as Google Reader and Yahoo! Pipes allow you to take advantage of your social visibility by bringing content (such as news) to you, and enabling you to join those dialogues as they happen, and you can also integrate them as RSS, XHTML or XML feeds into your Facebook profile or fan page.
That said, the easiest way right now to keep all of your social streams 'in place' and tied to your own social graph (your friends) is through Facebook. Facebook fan pages, for example, are wondrous for businesses or brands who want to maintain a central repository for blog content, microblog streams and other social content such as photos or video in a place that is contextually relevant and based on common interest. Further, Facebook's acquisition of FriendFeed gives it a real-time search component that can better organize and index that relevant content to new users who are seeking the content you share through those common interest variables. Also keep in mind that Facebook is actually the largest photo-sharing site in the world (yes, bigger than Flickr), and odds are that it will give platforms such as YouTube a serious run for its money as the largest video-sharing player because of its enhanced social search capabilities.
Finally, you should definitely post links to all your online profiles and treat each page of your own site as a landing page, but remember that multiplicity is not necessarily a friend to search engines. For example, meta keyword tags are no longer recognized by most search engines (at least not the big four), so you need to be very careful about how you syndicate and tag your own content. Linkbaits, linkbacks and cross-posts are all being called into question as legit marketing devices by virtue of the organic search game, and the very real threat it poses to paid search. Look for the regulatory agencies such as FTC to develop more aggressive guidelines around this, much in the same way it has for bloggers and similar investigations that are being conducted around behavioral targeting for ad content shared across networks.
At Heardable, we want your brand to be as prepared as it can be for this aggregation, and to understand all the dynamics at play when optimizing your digital outreach.
At Heardable, it's important to us that we not only show you the value of how to elevate your brand presence right now, but what to look for right around the corner. Our insights have been culled from years of experience on the brand, agency, technology and investment sides of the media business. Here are 12 emerging trends that we feel you should look out for... And all the more reason to be come more Heardable.
1. People are ubiquitous.
Brands must move with markets, as people are loyal to information, not places or destinations. Basically, people are pixels (and vice versa).
2. SaaS further evolves into multidimensional PaaS, enterprise & API suites.
Super-user communities are rapidly increasing with force, effect and influence, as well as shaping market & business intelligence.
3. Transmedia is the high standard for planning & content development.
'Campaigns' as we know them are dying on the proverbial vine. Ideas and respective content must live on as currency that can live in indefinitely, and through a variety of story arcs and respective touch-points.
4. Research is not just a marketing function, it is an inevitability (and adaptability) of life.
What we know right now will likely change in the next ten minutes. What we do about it is a combination of learning from past mistakes and taking bold, albeit somewhat calculated, risks.
5. Brand (and product) collaboration is key.
Companies no longer own brands, people do. We must empower their affinities so that that they can become product realities.
6. Utility is uniquely portable & competitively shareable.
True application and use of currency changes everyday life. Further, multiple brands - even competing ones - play a role in that interaction with a consumer.
7. Mobile means a lot more than a platform.
We can no longer think in terms of screens, we must embrace the fact that content & utility can connect us just about anywhere, as well as inspire us to make better purchase decisions.
8. Good content is good content.
YouTube has become the second largest search index behind its parent, Google. Hulu is the fourth largest captive network compared to primary cable TV nets. The mediocre content on offer within the mid-tail is forcing the hand of higher quality content... which can come from just about anywhere. Hollywood has already taken notice.
9. New channels are waiting to be discovered.
Microfinancing is just one example of the ways that subsidizing and re-privatizing hard currency will create as well as support new media that are world-changing.
10. Networks are truly interchangeable.
It's no longer about increasing your slice of the pie, it's about making the pie bigger. Open source means open for bigger business, and greater brand opportunities.
11. Social search embraces the human condition.
The semantic web has evolved beyond artificial intelligence and become real sentiment. Just look at who now owns search (along with brands).
12. Good marketing means improving the world. Period.
It's no wonder that Facebook Causes is one of the biggest captive platforms in the world with 75 million users. People want change, and they're ready to help make it happen.
By all means, please add to the list... We would love to hear from you in developing more intelligence around how we all can become more Heardable.
As the name implies, "Brandformation" is the combination of two primary things:
1. The formalization of a brand's identity within any and all digital environments.
2. The ability for a brand to share information with and amongst advocates that is relevant and aspirational.
Consumers are smarter and more empowered than they have ever been before. The 'New World Web' has evolved to a point where people are more loyal to personal connections and trusted information, rather than places, destinations, or companies. Brands, and the companies they represent, must embrace this reality and constantly think of innovative ways to provide and cultivate information that is relevant to markets, as they move across the digital landscape.
As championed by digital consultancy, Visual Orange, there are distinct strategies to consider in formalizing a brand and giving it the ability to provide informational utility:
In order for brands to fit in, as opposed to break through or disrupt, they must constantly establish and prove their market relevance. As you might imagine, missteps have huge repercussions.
Further, brands and marketing executives are awash with reporting data (lots of latent numbers), but are really looking for a way to make sense of it, streamline it, and, make it more actionable... and earlier on in the management cycle.
At Heardable, our goal is to not only provide you with a utility that can show you scalable ways to address these critical needs, but work with you developing and improving upon a viable solution set.
The Brandformation is coming... Are you ready?
There is an old rule of thumb in internet marketing that says the majority of visitors to a website will exit the site between 0-8 seconds. I am not sure where this statistic came from or if the time parameter is scientifically exact. The general point being made here is that as a web marketer has mere seconds to capture a prospects attention and convert a ‘visit’ into a ‘lead.’
The average site guest isn’t frenetic or impatient. They’re simply reacting on impulse to whether or not the web page they landed on met their initial expectations. This user-impulse is performed without much deep consideration.
As web designers and online marketers, we must consider the unofficial 8 second rule when designing web pages that support our online campaigns. We should ask ourselves:
1. Does this page load quickly?
2. Is this page what visitors expect?
3. Is this page instantly credible?
4. Does this page speak to my visitor’s needs and offer a solution?
5. Does the page have a singular focus & streamlined call to action?
It’s hard to believe that within seconds, most online visitors have determined whether or not the page they landed on is relevant to their needs and meets their standards for trust. Perhaps we are all hard-wired to know what we are looking for in a compelling advertising experience. The ‘perfect offer’ is one that we know when we see.
For those visitors who stay on your web page, a small portion of them will attempt to convert but with fail somehow. Common points of failure during the conversion process are:
1. Clear benefits for transacting are not apparent
2. Limited call-to-action formats are available (phone, form, chat, etc)
3. Phone callers are sent into a voice mail system
4. The form either asks too many irrelevant questions or certain form fields are ambiguous
5. Expectations as to what comes next have not been made clear
Designing a web page that is optimized for direct response is no easy task. And only testing with live online traffic will reveal your champion design.
Online visitors are a funny breed. Often, the ‘best’ designed page performs poorly and ‘ugly’ designs yield greater results. From a brand perspective, we suggest that marketers publish a web page that you are proud to display to the world, yet one that fulfills your your sales goals as well. Keep in mind that even your ‘champion’ web pages will grow stale over time, meaning that you’ll want to constantly test your control against new challengers in order to keep your campaigns fresh and fully optimized.
Twitter and other microblogging platforms are inherently local, relevant, and social. They’ve organically created a powerful mix of content and relationships, and there are a couple of simple things that they can do to unlock more value, and that local businesses can do to leverage the platform.
At Heardable, we also think that in order for brands to have a global impact, they must address the needs of customers at the local level.
Twitter has a great opportunity here to further develop a system that adds true social and geographic relevance to search. In the short term, it would be great to see an indication of social relevance: maybe a graphic bug that indicates how “close” the tweet is to me in my Twitter social network. Geographically, we like what they’ve done with the “near:” option in the search query, and for travelers or people that don’t read the manual, maybe a “show me results near me” checkbox could be a simpler solution. Now of course, you also have the option of "lists" that help you sort through threads generated by people or companies you'd like to follow more closely.
As microblogs like Twitter see their volume and usage grow, what are the opportunities in this area for local businesses as well as global brands?
Here’s an example. Lou On Vine is a local restaurant in Los Angeles that we really enjoy. The owner has an interesting and offbeat wine cellar, and their food is sourced from small farms locally and across the US. The menu changes regularly. They’ve gotten some good press, and are a little off the beaten path in terms of location. If they were up on Twitter, I’d certainly follow them if they announced new wines, menu changes, weekday specials, and so on. I might even RT if I saw something I was particularly enthusiastic about.
For the local business owner, this is simple, quick, and effective. Local businesses do not always have the time and attention required to create a full-fledged email program - maintaining lists, designing emails, writing paragraphs of content, and so on. This small effort brings them into a huge mass of potential customers that are already grouped – very generally – by common interests and social ties. If you re-tweet a LouOnVine message, it’s going to your followers – a group that is likely at least a little more interested in this type of restaurant than the general population.
And when someone searches on Twitter for “Lou on Vine” they’ll see that menu change or new wine, or your re-tweet. When someone you follow is in LA and searches for “good restaurants” and checks the “select results near me,” maybe they’ll see a tweet of yours referencing Lou On Vine , and that you're very close to them on the social graph.
Further, if you as a brand or a local business (or as a local extension of a global business) index good, compelling content (blog or microblog posts) with enough frequency, you’ll show up in search results that aren’t just specific to that particular area, because now you’ve established contextual relevance.
If you run a local business or a global brand, don’t wait: start a business account on Twitter. It literally takes 2 minutes. Then at least once a week post relevant messages that are useful to customers and potential customers. Follow people in the area that are passionate about, or at least interested in, the types of services or products you provide. Twitter is a great way to get more out of your valuable relationships and content.
More importantly, use the Heardable tool to give you a perspective on where you sit within the local landscape -- you can run a single analytics search, or even better, through a paid account, you can run multiple searches simultaneously using our comparative analysis feature in your portfolio.
Remember that the Heardable tool allows you to look at all forms of your digital outreach so that what you say locally takes on a voice that can be shared globally.
Try our free tool today and see the possibilities for yourself!
The social web is an amazing albeit tough place. Just looking at the blogosphere alone, the new and profound shift in conscious communications brings with it a rash of harsh criticism, personal attacks and digressions that often seek to well up emotional sores as opposed to cultural mores that can be collectively challenged in more positive ways.
At Heardable, when we think of earning media – what the social web mandates in our interpersonal exchanges – we must also consider that respect is a core value that has somehow gotten lost in the frenetic race to stay ‘ahead of the social curve’ (if that’s even possible). Brands must understand and embrace this notion if they want to stay relevant.
So perhaps we need to understand, or reacquaint ourselves with, what respect really is.
So what is ‘respect’?
According to Wikipedia, it is esteem for, or a sense of the worth or excellence of, a person, a personal quality, ability, or a manifestation of a personal quality or ability. In certain ways, respect manifests itself as a kind of ethic, or principle, such as in the commonly taught concept of "[having] respect for others" or the ethic of reciprocity.
Esteem for, or a sense of the worth, or excellence, of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability, for example, "I have great respect for her judgment."
Deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment: respect for a suspect's right to counsel; to show respect for the flag; respect for the elderly.
Three things immediately jump out: esteem for others, what ultimately amounts to self-worth, and more specific to brands, the ethic of reciprocity.
It’s funny because in the social media world, we talk about things like reciprocity in terms of transparency and authenticity, but rarely, if at all, do we discuss self-worth and esteem for others. Sure, we express mutual admiration, but we’ll go out on a limb and say that this is an attribute that primarily exists out of self-interest. For example, and at the risk of being cynical, if we commend you on something over, say Twitter, we're really soliciting you to commend us on that acknowledgment.
There’s nothing wrong with mutual admiration, by the way, but we're trying to make a larger point which is that we often lose sight of the substance and inherent value behind our communication streams by virtue of how we actually engage in these communication streams.
As for esteem and self-worth, well, those are things we need to work on within ourselves so that we can evolve along with everyone else. There is a certain amount of heavy lifting we need to do in the way of self-introspection so that we can present ourselves to each other on the social web in a way that is emotionally resonant and contextually relevant. Perhaps technology has enabled us to cut some corners here.
So back to respect.
For purposes that hopefully extend this position beyond semantics, let’s reframe what respect can mean, or better yet, be, to us within a social context. Let’s make it all about reciprocity, about sharing something of value pretty much every time we come to the table with a desire, a need or an inquiry, so that when we share media – and all that it represents to us – we not only understand its value, but we then know that its discourse does not lose sight of its purpose... Which is to build trust, a primary tenet... Among many other things.
If we can accept that people are media, then respect is the foundation of successful relationships not only with brands, but the things that brands represent in the larger context of the world around us. In turn, the media that we earn then allows us to make a real difference in our lives, and, gives us real purpose behind our purchases.
So, perhaps we can reframe respect as a function of true reciprocity, and we can quantify it in these ways:
Searchable — are we making ourselves noticeable by what we’re willing to contribute to conversations?
Sociable — are we engaging with advocates and communities on a regular basis?
Shareable — are we reciprocating and promoting other people’s content other than our own?
Measurable — are we developing benchmarks based on environments and interactions more so than we are site visits?
Actionable — are we proactively taking steps to direct people to new calls-to-action or other areas of interest?
Portable — are we making our our brand content and information available in virtually all places, ways and times?
Given the current state of our search landscape, a new model is emerging that sheds very serious light on consumer control and activation; it is comprised of:
- Premium long-tail content developers (influencers, super-users and 'prime' blog networks)
- Content aggregation platforms (Facebook / FriendFeed )
- Conversation & social search engines (Twitter / Google Social Search (ala Caffeine) / Collecta et al)
The idea is that content developers will keep developing more premium content to cut through the clutter and saturation of mediocre mid-tail content. Conversation and social search engines will continue to filter the good content from the not-so-good content, and aggregators will give users ease-of-use and relevancy, such as dynamic comment threads, in order to interact and spread this premium content.
Guess who those content developers really are? You – the brands out there that are talking and being talked about, whether you are aware of it or not. Further, the development of micro media by consumer advocates, means that each and every brand needs to play a role in this creative process in order to stay relevant... Or quite simply, to be heard.
So why call it 'micro media' (which is not a new term, by the way...)? For three main reasons:
1. The lines between content and delivery are becoming more blurred, to the extent that these 'packets' can live in shorter bursts, or be digested in smaller, more relevant bits.
2. The portability of these packets allows them to be dynamically and semantically indexed into search, most often in real-time and also re-threaded through content or commentary streams (like FriendFeed).
3. Further, these content streams will be reshaped so that new semantic layers will build up (think of a new form of cookies) a value chain that is unique to each and every user, and will not only have topical relevance, but one that will represent a new relationship between local markets and niche categories.
At Heardable, we believe that it is not only important for brands to spearhead the creation of user-generated content, but to guide it in a way that makes it a part of their own outreach, in turn, benefiting both sides of the brand relationship. Further, we believe that an entirely holistic approach is necessary in order to coordinate and synchronize these efforts.
Micro media give influencers more targeted reach, as well as the ability to tap into niche markets that represent degrees of conversation - people in their social graph and relevant communities. As such, we will see a dramatic rise of super-users and common interest communities (tribes), and in using social technologies such as monitoring platforms, for example, we will then be able to accurately map groups of people (social graphs) that we can then target with more meaningful and useful information and content, which of course they can then spread to their peers, and their peers, and so on.
Ultimately, as the players within the landscape narrow and more consolidation takes place, new channels will form that offer more utility for creation and use. Whether or not networks and agencies play a role in this - at least as we know them - is anyone's guess. But one thing is for sure... if you're a brand, you definitely don't want to be late to the party.
Thoughts? Reactions? Upheavals?
What Social Search Is & Isn’t
Contrary to popular belief, social search is NOT Twitter search, nor is it real-time search -- it is actually an amalgamation of ranking, sorting and community relevance.
Bing recently announced a deal with Twitter to produce Bing Twitter Search (see Up Close With Bing’s Twitter Search Engine). The new service allows you to search for matching tweets or find interesting links that have been tweeted. This means that content in the form of these Tweet streams will be not only indexed, but will also be filtered. Do not forget that 90% of Tweets come from less than 10% of the entire Twitter user base, so what you see will definitely need to be ‘scrubbed’ and ‘appropriated’.
The same day the Bing deal was announced, Google announced that it also struck a deal with Twitter to tap into Twitter’s information and make use of it with more utility. The details behind this move are still a bit hazy, but potentially, Google might produce a Twitter search engine of its own or make a broader real-time search engine. Google Caffeine will likely become a part this product offering, although the verdict is still out on exactly when this would officially launch, and how much of this would actually dovetail with the development Google has already undergone. Caffeine, as you may or may not know, is Google’s real-time search index. However, in part due to what we’ve explained above, as well as the fact that content on the social web experiences so much overlap, it is nearly impossible to index all of this content in real-time.
Also that same day, Google announced that “Google Social Search” would be coming. This was in development before the Twitter deal was announced and, in fact, doesn’t depend on it at all in terms of its 'social indexing', meaning that this Google product will pull in feeds from any network or utility and rank it according of relevance to a user's social graph, or, a preexisting group. Currently, this is not a real-time function for the fact that ranking and relevance require a significant filtration and sorting process that the Google algorithm (or at least this new version) has been modified to accomodate. More importantly, Social Search doesn’t search against tweets, as the team here at Heardable can explain to you.
Social Search is a Function of Trust
So what all of this really boils down to is the trust that is earned between influencers, or more specifically, the people you have in your social graph. If you are a brand, it is that much more vital that you realize the impact of not only empowering the interactions between advocates, but joining conversations in which the curators or moderators have the respect of the social community at large.
This is precisely why when we run our Heardable results, we pull form over 20 on-site AND off-site variables — because we know that these datasets must be ‘corroborated with’ and ‘weighed against’ each other. We also know that trust doesn’t come in the form of site visits and engagement within controlled environments, but rather those that are subject to the demands of consumer sentiment and topical relevance.
Social Search is About Ranking and Sorting, based on Your Social Circle
As much as we are here to help you measure that efficacy of your brand reach across the social web, we also want to emphasize how important it is for you as a brand, to establish primary influence so that people we adopt and syndicate your content for you. Therefore, a brand’s social graph – and social graphs that spin off from that – is one of its most important assets.
Every time you post, now and in the future, your content will be weighed, evaluated and tested against those in your user circle, as well as those who are members of like communities. The outlay of these communities – what we call ‘community mapping’ -- will determine the fate of your outreach, and ultimately, how visible you are in search.
You Are the Primary Content ‘Conduit’ - You Determine Viability
Our goal at Heardable is to provide you with a utility that shows you exactly what your ‘brand viability’ might look like; this is not only a product of what you see, but also a product of what you do – how you adapt to the landscape.
The real goal you should keep top-of-mind as a brand is what you do as a content publisher. In many respects, brands are the new publishers, and you have lots of opportunity to create an ecosystem where your content has real value AND can be monetized through select channels. In this sense, the marketing function has been turned on its head – you can become a viable source for news and related lifestyle content that extend far beyond a simple product offering.
Use the Heardable Tool as the Litmus
Still confused about this all really means? Run a search using our free tool and look at all these elements in action... You’ll be surprised by what you see, and all the things you can do to become more Heardable.
Also, if you register with us, you’ll full access to our comparative analysis feature, so you an look at how you or other brands compare within the same category.