Evolution of the Digital Agency
Evolution of the Digital Agency
I have been known to be a detractor of social media. I think its time for me to say something on the other side of the argument also.
In a society that constantly asks its members to play roles that are passed down from generation to generation, mobility within roles is always a problem. This applies to the work/career, hobbies/profession, course of study/skill and gender roles that are well defined. In such a society, it is not a surprise that people use the online world to discover themselves. Creating avatars, escaping and pushing the boundaries of what they are allowed to do in the “real world”.
People are shouting out about issues where they were told to shut up. The “twitter wali quam” (twitter nation) are pushing the envelope about what can be discussed and what cant. There is no carpet anymore to hide issues under, and everything can be brought into the public eye through social media.
The assumed avatars of the online world, are becoming more and more like the real constrained self’s that have been bottled up for so long.
As a tool of radical transparency, social media is opening up a can of worms. Change is happening. Its only a matter of time before traditional societies have to face radical change because the online avatars will become “real”. Occupy will take on a new meaning – the virtual will occupy the real.
As can be seen, the countries on the left are all “South” Developing countries, who are using social media in higher percentages than the Developed world on the right. It is obvious the South is ripe for radical transformation.
Much has been written about tactical deployment of brand communication in the digital world, however, there has been little effort at theorizing around existing models of brand communication and how consumer behavior and brand management is being fundamentally altered by technological change.
This post takes a look at Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism, one of the most influential models of brand communication, and how digital technologies are challenging older communication models.
Kapferer focusses attention on the sender receiver model, and how brands are senders of information and consumers are receivers and vice versa.
This model needs to be looked at in detail for the digital age, as consumers are not only connected to each other, they are hyper-linked to brands and any action that a brand takes has to take, has to account for this speed and depth of responses. Hitting the forward key takes no effort, and every false move has a much longer and deeper shelf life than it used to. On the other hand, because consumers are so connected to brands, those brands that have the digital connection worked out stand to gain by co-opting consumers into the product development process, utilizing word of mouth to develop communication strategy, and handle issues in real time.
Let’s take a look at each of the elements from the brand identity prism and how they apply:
This is the recognizable physical aspect of the brand. In terms of digital marketing, this expands to include the online spaces that the brand inhabits and the community and brandosphere that is nurtured and developed by the brand.
The brands character. When communication is expanded into the virtual world, personality, values and tone of voice become all the more important. All interactions in hyper-space, whether games or blogs, need to have the same personality. Once the personality has been set, there would be many things that the brand cannot do online just like, based on personality, people decide what to do and who to hang out with.
The system of values that the brand inherits from the company. In virtual terms, this becomes all consuming, as the corporate entity needs to sort out its presence online, and to decide how the brand will communicate with the TA. Company values are being constantly assessed at all times by consumers before and after the purchase. (refer to the McKinsey Consumer Journey Model detailed in the Notes)
The relation between brand and consumer, and also between consumers, and how the brand facilitates this relationship. In the virtual world, ofcourse your brand could be facebook, and be the ultimate facilitator of relationships, or you might have to work at building a relationship with consumers. Here, an interesting tribal insight comes into play: Everyone does not have to be playing the same role to be friends, infact in a functioning tribe different people play different roles. Hence, it is not essential for the brand to be an exact replica of its target audience in personality terms in order for it to have a good relationship.
Reflection (of the consumer):
This is the stereotypical user of the brand. In Kapferers model, it is important for the brand manager to know who the ideal consumer really is, and to focus communication on this consumer. Online there will be many groups of consumers who will engage with the brand, but the reflected consumer is the one who the brand should seek to target, and this reflected consumer should be used to engage the other groups. Brand advocates and bloggers with the right personas can be used to engage online audiences here.
The mirror the target group holds up to itself. The ideal self of the consumer. Brands must find and talk to the ideal self. In the virtual world most people put on their ideal self on display, and so brands who connect in the avatar affected world will be the most likely to succeed.
For a detailed account of Kapferer’s model: pg. pg 182-187, The New Strategic Brand Management, JN Kapferer, Kogan Page, Fourth Edition, 2008. I have taken the definitions for each facet of the Prism from http://www.eurib.org/en/knowledge-resource-centre/online-recource-centre/identity-and-image.html
For a description of how the consumer journey is changing according to McKinsey, and how the funnel is no longer a valid analogy: http://cmsoforum.mckinsey.com/article/winning-the-consumer-decision-journey
Dear Agency CEO:
It is my pleasure to present 8 things you need to do now!
The subject I want to talk about today is How Physical Activity can be promoted through the internet. Masayoshi Oka in his paper
talks about how the physical world and the social world come together in public space. I have taken this model further and trace how TV takes people indoors (away from public space) and then internet starts to replace the community that is formed in public spaces. My theory is that the internet can be used to bring people in the public spaces together (proximity, location based services) and can also be used to bring people together in public space (facebook event calendar). What we saw in tahrir square in the Egyptian uprising can also be analysed through this tool.
To conclude, I believe that old world media definitely brings people away from community (even though they may have a shared sense of “imagined community”), but new media can definitely bring people out and into the community.
Just as narratives have global appeal, it seems that computer based games are globally accepted as play tools. Ive been doing some thinking about this, and the wider demographic that has been exposed to games thanks to smart phones now comprises people who are further down the socio-economic classification than before, and also more women are playing computer games than ever before.
Gaming is no longer the bastion of the american, male geek expressing his pent up testosterone in the virtual world.
So, whats the reason for the newfound love of games worldwide? First is the obvious. The new games that have made it really big are not on console but on phone / tablet. These devices have limited computing power, and hence the games too are simple to view and simple to play. Play times are short, generally, and you dont need to be genius to enjoy these games for a few minutes. Infact digital natives would remember similar games on commodore 64 and sinclair zx80, atari etc. Its almost a reprisal.
The second observation that i have may or may not make sense to a lot of people, and that is: computer games allow moral plays. Computer games reward good behaviour, and punish bad behaviour. Many succesful games are based on a quest (something akin to the heroes quest). Infact, all multistage games are quests of a sort, even if the back story is absent. By their quest based nature, and their inherent moral engines, games today are connecting with women, children as well as lower education individuals around the world.
I know grand theft auto went against this, and now some games allow you to play from the bad guys perspective, however, in my opinion, this will never be mainstream. Humans are wired to a moral economy. Like it or not.
No I am not talking about crisis management, or online activism. I am talking about the greatest subterfuge in recent history : the idea that brands have a voice. This concept, for the uninitiated is based on the idea that brands have personality (an idea that is used extensively in advertising strategy). The problem is that when brands try to speak on social media, they really have nothing to say. People use social media to speak to other people. Brands do not speak to people.
So when brand x asks me how my hair is doing, we know there is a problem. Dont get me wrong, I am a great believer in suspension of disbelief, but brand initiated social media leaves me incredulous. I just cant suspend my disbelief any longer. The subterfuge is gone, and the charade is exposed for what it is. A large corp trying to fool me into believing its my friend.
So what should fmcg mnc’s really do on social media?
1. Separate crisis management from brand building. Be quick to respond to a firestorm, because it can go viral.
2. Create brand advocates within the company, and empower them to talk to people. How this will work with all the transfers and postings that take place in mncs will be a problem. I know many corps have outsourced this blogging function and companies are doing this for them, but really how smart is this?
3. use digital engagement through web experience as a whole and use social media as amplification, not the other way around.
In end, get real. Kill the charade, or face competition from smaller companies who have real people telling real stories.