Archive | March, 2012

More Adults Using Social Media. What it Means for Businesses.

30 Mar

Figure 1 - Adults Using Social Networking Sites

The research folks at Pew Internet have just given us more proof that the phenomena known as social media is not just a passing fad.  As Facebook has reached 483 million daily users, Pew latest data shows us that 66% of online adults now use social networking sites.   Not surprisingly women are leading the way. (Figure 1)

The latest Pew research mirrors trends I gathered in my own research of social media users in the Twin Cities.   Women tend to be power users.   Not only are they more heavily engaged in social media,  women were more likely to “friend” or “like” a business than men would.   Facebook is the channel of choice with 90% of Twin Cities respondents indicating use the site.  Pew’s new national data set from February of 2012 shows us that women are still in driver’s seat with 71% using social networking sites.

Figure 2

Pew also confirms that social media use is still in a growth phase.   Typical daily usage among adults has rocketed from 27% in April of 2009 to 48% in February of 2012. (Figure 2)

So what does this mean if you’re a business owner looking to reach out to your customers?

  • Conduct some customer research.  Are your customers using social media, and what channels?  What do they want from you—product news?  Help?
  • If women are your primary customers, you must be on Facebook.
  • Encourage customers to follow you on SNS to get exclusive content or discounts.
  • Respond to customer comments on a DAILY if not IMMEDIATE basis.

The last tip is vital.  Internet users who are accessing social media for customer service want immediate feedback.  I recently spoke with Brittney Madsen the online manager at The Wedding Shoppe in St. Paul who said that her customers are increasing turning to the store’s Facebook page to ask questions about designers, price, and inventory.   Madsen said that if she doesn’t respond within minutes, the customers will go to a competitor looking for answers.  In this store’s experience, social media has become just as important of a business tool as a phone.

The Wedding Shoppe’s experience along with Pew’s latest research shows adults are embracing social media.  While it is still a place for personal connections, by making your engagements personal to your customer, you can be a part of their lives.

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How Businesses and Consumers are using Social Media for Customer Support

25 Mar

As the internet becomes more ingrained as a 21st century communications channel, it should come as no surprise that consumers are using it to reach out to businesses to either connect or solve problems.

Current research from Pew shows how 59% of all adults use the internet.   Of those people, 43% use social networking sites.   But how are they using social media to connect with brands and business, and just as important, how are those brands responding?

Here is an extremely useful infograph from the folks at Zendesk that shows how those relationships are forming.

Pink Slime — Anatomy of a Contagion

23 Mar

The gooey mess known as Pink Slime has suddenly become a public relations mess too.  But, how did it go from a food additive to a food disaster in record time?  A large part of the answer lies in the power of social memes and the ability of key audiences to spread it like a contagion.

Figure 1 - Pink Slime

Let’s break it down.  In this case, the food additive included in some forms of processed beef came with a descriptive slang name and an iconic image: pink slime. (Figure 1)

In its basic form, pink slime a substance made from the rendered connective tissues and intestines of cows.  Because those tissues are susceptible to e-coli contamination, they are processed with ammonium nitrate to kill the bacteria and act as a preservative.   For years the FDA has approved the additive as a safe filler for meat products.  But when an image and video of the substance appeared in the news reports in early March about its presence in school lunch hamburgers, pink slime became a household word as fast as parents could hit the “send” button on their computers.   As a Google Trends analysis shows, pink slime went viral in a matter of 24-hours and has not let up since. (Figure 2)

Figure 2 - Google Trends

Three key factors are involved here.  First, the image itself of the pink slime became what social psychologist Jaap Van Genneken would call a strong replicator.  In other words, it’s an iconic image that developed and sealed an emotion in the minds of the viewer.  In this case, the image leads to the very human response of questioning what this substance is doing in our food—especially our children’s food at school.

Second, the image sealed itself in the minds of an important audience.   That audience is mainly women, in particular, the mothers of school children.

Third, these women not only saw the image of the pink slime included in stories in various news media, they spread the story to their friends and peer groups in social media.  My own audience research among social media users indicates that women are heavily invested in, and are heavy users of social channels.   They not only use social media as a way of discovering news from their friends, but to share news and issues that are important to them.   When this story broke, the image, the issue, and the salience to their children and families created its own perfect recipe for a modern-day social issue contagion. (Figure 3)

Figure 3 - Contagion Model

The result has been a sudden abandonment of meat products containing the so-called pink slime.  Several major grocery store chains have now said they have stopped ordering beef products containing the additive.   One of them is Twin Cities based SuperValue which owns and operates Cub Food stores throughout the Midwest.   Here’s its statement:

“We’ve heard concerns from many of our shoppers about the inclusion of finely textured beef in some of the ground beef products available at our stores. Effective today, we have made the decision to no longer purchase fresh ground beef products that contain finely textured beef.”  -SuperValue

            The power of the contagion lies in the statement’s first sentence.   Consumers spoke up.  SuperValue listened.  It’s a 21st century lesson in the speed of which issues closely tied to strong memes can spread, and the power of key audiences armed with a “send” button.

Fiat’s Branding Machine — What Are YOU Looking At?

20 Mar

For a tiny car, the Fiat 500 is telling a big story.  And it says a lot about how to create multiple brand narratives around a new product.

Fiat 500

Since its creative splash during Super Bowl XLVI, Fiat has given us two sequels that speak to different audiences highlighting unique product attributes to each one.  The brilliance of the Super Bowl Abarth ad is that it took the age-old “love affair with a car” metaphor and made it real.  The woman seductively bending over at the curb wasn’t just any kind of sex symbol; she was an Italian sex symbol.  It was the embodiment of lust and bust.  “Che cosa guardi?” she screams in Italian.  The translation is simple, “What are you looking at?”  The answer is just as simple–a brand new sexy-hot Italian sports car.

 

Fiat has since followed with two more ads that stretch the storytelling for different audiences.  The latest incorporates another babe–this one in a car seat.  The ad follows two family guys with tickets to the big game and extra baggage strapped into the back seat.  But they get caught behind a grey-haired senior citizen in his vintage Chrysler Imperial.  (Think Clint Eastwood)  But the speed of the Fiat shows this is clearly not Halftime in America–it’s full throttle.  The message: drive the kids in the fast lane.

 

Then there’s the House Arrest ad once again featuring the Abarth, but this time in bad boy black.  The car races through the hallways of a mansion stocked with booze and babes.  When the car finally screeches to a halt in the ballroom, the driver climbing out is none other than Charlie Sheen.  The tag line is “Not all bad boys are alike.”  The message: have fun on your terms.

 

They are three ads with three distinct stories about a new product.  It’s sexy.  It’s practical.  And, it’s fun.  Can’t wait to see what else Fiat has up its sleeve.

Picture This — A Cure Community for Diabetes

5 Mar

Hopes and dreams don’t just hang in our minds, sometimes they hang in picture frames.

Blotz Family - OutFOX Diabetes 2012 Walk Team

At the recent Minnesota JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes, the hopes and dreams spilled from the pictures taken and pictures displayed on shirts and posters all across the Mall of America.  Almost all of them were of children.   Each one shouts a story, each one begs for someone to listen.  But the one picture that doesn’t exist is the image reserved for the empty frame that sits in each of our homes.  That’s the frame waiting for a picture of a cure.

Kim Bailey, an adult living with diabetes since her childhood once told me she envisions the frame as a picture of nothing.  “Let’s get rid of it.  It exists no longer.  Let’s get it done and put ourselves out of a job.”

Amen.

Until then, I still fill my frames with hopes and dreams for my daughters Maddy and Emme.  Maddy was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at the age of three, Emme at the age of eleven.  It’s not an easy disease for children, or their parents.  Manageable, yes.  Easy, no.  Besides the constant blood sugar tests, carb counting and needles sticks, there is the worry and many times the feeling of isolation and exasperation.

Alyssa Kapaun was diagnosed in 2011 with Type-1

At this year’s Walk there were two girls who know both the isolation and exasperation.  Alyssa Kapaun is a fifth grader who every day eats lunch by herself because she returns late to the cafeteria after getting her insulin shot in the nurse’s office.  To a parent, it’s a crushing sight; Alyssa on one end of the cafeteria all alone, her class on the other end.  I recently had the chance to meet Alyssa at her school—she didn’t eat lunch alone that day. 

Hailey Stark of "Hailey's Army" Walk Team

                            And then there’s Hailey Stark, a high school freshman I first met at last year’s Walk hobbling along on crutches.  She was having a hard time of it.  The struggles of being a teenager, in addition to one with diabetes AND a broken leg were written on her face as plain as a low blood sugar reading.  She didn’t give up then, and she hasn’t given up now.  What a thrill it was to see her again at this year’s Walk without the crutches and with a team of friends.  The message that I hope Alyssa and Hailey took home from the 21,000 people at this year’s walk is that you’re never alone. 

The stories of those two children drive what is both an essential function and brand for JDRF.  At its core JDRF is a charitable organization that drives and funds essential research to cure, treat, and prevent Type-1 diabetes.  Since a group of mothers founded JDRF in 1970, it has contributed $1.6 billion toward research to find a cure–$116 million in 2011 alone.  In many ways, it is invisible work conducted in laboratories and clinics around the world.   But as Alyssa and Hailey show us, it is JDRF’s visible work of programming the Walks and fundraisers that provide a core social purpose and create a powerful brand.

Figure 1 - JDRF Mental Model Map

Two years ago I conducted a communications research study to identify leverageable consumer insights into the Walk to Cure Diabetes.   Part of the study’s methodology utilized a Zaltman-style elicitation analysis that had a number of people affected by Type-1 diabetes assemble a series of pictures that best describe their feelings and thoughts about the disease.  The elicitation study produced a mental model map that started with diabetes and its burdens and laddered up to JDRF, the Walk, and finally, a cure. (Figure 1)  The subjects in the study produced two important and equal mind models of the Walk, one of support, and one of togetherness.  In the togetherness model, the concepts of “empathy” and the thought of “not being alone” stood out among the participants.  To all of the study’s subjects, the Walk represented the possibilities of a cure and the higher level values of happiness, innocence, and freedom. 

Together, this mental map produced a number of important take-aways.

Consumer Insights into Diabetes:

  • Diabetes is hard on families
  • Exceptionally hard on parents
  • Physical and emotional struggle for the patients of Type-1 diabetes
  • Lives are ruled by medicines and machines

Consumer Insights into JDRF:

  • Represents a means to a cure
  • Finding a cure means a return to innocence for our children

Consumer Insights into Walk to Cure Diabetes:

  • Family
  • Coming together
  • Support
  • Reinforces the sense of not being alone

What became very clear from the research is that people with ties to JDRF viewed it as a community.  Not just any community—A Cure Community.

JDRF has done extensive work in the past year to rebrand itself as the Type-1 diabetes organization.  It’s certainly one way to differentiate itself from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) which also supports research but has a core mission of helping people with diabetes live better lives.  The people who continue to support JDRF with their dollars want something more.  They want a cure and a return to the freedom and happiness it represents.  That’s why the consumer insight into JDRF as a cure community is so powerful.  It is the foundation to a brand for JDRF that has real meaning.

2012 JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes at MOA

The 21,000 people who raised $2.1 million at the recent JDRF Walk know it.   Now Alyssa Kapaun and Hailey Stark know it, too.  They exist in their parents’ picture frames just as Maddy and Emme exist in my own.

And then there’s that empty frame, too.  I’m holding out to fill it with one giant group-shot of all the people we cure.

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