Building brands online

Why sweet Cheerios went sour on YouTube

ClickZ has recently published a post about Cheerios and its branded content on YouTube that I'd like to comment on. To make a long story short, Cheerios (a brand of cereal produced by General Mills) has uploaded several videos on its YouTube channel, and they resulted in a number of negative comments.

The videos don't actually make any references to the brand. They feature a tennis player who's healthy and full of energy (because she eats Cheerios, but this we can only guess) and a woman who likes to be healthy, enjoys watering plans and being outside (all thanks to Cheerios, I suppose!).

The videos resulted in a number of negative comments, and, even worse, an article on ClickZ (and yes, this blog post as well). Ouch! Even though Cheerios has only 31 subscribers on its YouTube channel, this is not very cheerful news for the brand.

What are some of the implications of this for Funky Brands?

  • Don't jump into social media just because everybody does it

It's very fashionable to be all over social media, whether it has anything to do with your overall brand strategy or not. I spoke about this at several events, and you can learn more about it in my post Is your brand ready to go online?

The bottom line is, social media is a very advanced and very sensitive media outlet to grasp and master, and you simply can't take it for granted. The problem is, many brands that want to explore social media go talk to social media, new media, or digital agencies or consultants, who, of course, will ensure the brand's presence throughout the web.

I'd suggest a totally different approach. First, figure out your brand strategy basics, and only then implement them through social media. Believe me, thinking and implementing works much better than just implementing!

Cheerios, for example, would have needed to do much better home work regarding its positioning before producing branded content and putting it online. The connection between their product and the fact that it prevents heart disease seems rather weak.  Even if we assume that Cheerios has some nutritional value that benefits health, this brand entry point is rather weak and may not be immediately understood by consumers. Hence all those sarcastic comments on YouTube mocking the connection between Cheerios and health.  This suggests to me that Cheerios would benefit from some smart repositioning to remain authentic and strike a cord with its real fans.

  • When not too sure about your overall brand strategy, use social media to tweak and explore it

At first, this tip might seem somewhat contradictory to the one above. However, the similarity is that you absolutely have to have a solid brand strategy in place, before you jump into social media.  However, often you will have assumptions that would need to be tested, and this is especially true for small companies that don't have lots of cash to spare on traditional market research. Then by using the social media slowly and carefully, they can get very good insights into their consumers and market trends. These insights can be then used to improve and tweak the existing brand strategy.

  • Think twice about branded content

Let me be clear: I am not a big fan of branded content in general.  Branded content is any kind of entertainment content sponsored by brands. Unlike ads which have explicit mentions of the advertiser, branded content usually has little or no mention of the sponsor at all. As a consumer, I'm more likely to watch an ad and know who's behind it rather than be fooled and even manipulated by carefully hidden messages. The problem is, people don't like ads, period. And if they discover that they are watching an ad, whereas they first thought it was simply an entertaining video, they won't be happy.  So, don't monopolize their time and pretend you are not there.

  • Don't forget that the power of social media is NOT all about numbers

The YouTube channel of Cheerios has only 31 subscribers, and yet look at all the fuss.  I feel that the concept of "numbers" in social media is becoming more and more blurry.  On Twitter, everybody seemed to be obsessed by the number of followers (the more, the better) until Klout concluded that one's influence does not solely depend on the number of followers. On Facebook, most people will keep your brand as a friend, to keep the numbers high and appear social, whilst hiding it to keep annoying updates at bay. Don't be seduced by high numbers, and if the numbers are low, don't take this as a guarantee that your brand is safe from bad publicity.

Is your brand ready to go online?

Last week, I attended a business development conference in Brussels. Although not exclusively, the majority of the conferences and mini-talks were about e-marketing and online channels in general. The main focus was on tips and tricks of using online tools in order to achieve results. DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE BEFORE GOING ONLINE

What results? This, of course, depends on each individual company, but you'd be amazed to know that only very few companies know what they want to achieve before establishing online presence. Often, they gotta be online just for the sake of it, because it's en vogue, or because hey, all of their competitors are already jumping on the bandwagon of all things web.

FIRST, THINK BUSINESS STRATEGY

Indeed, tapping into social media for brand-building purposes should be for sure on any brand's radar screen these days. But it's how you use it, and how you link it to your overall business strategy, that's important. If you haven't figured out your brand's DNA yet, and have a vague idea of what your customers love (or hate!) your brand for, it's not yet time to engage in high-intensity Twittering! Read my article Why sweet Cheerios went sour on YouTube to learn what can go wrong if you jump into social media too fast.

On many occasions at the afore-mentioned event, several people came to me asking how to use Twitter or Facebook, and were not able to explain why they wanted to do that. One guy gave me a fancy answer, "To show that we know how to do that".  Show to whom? He wasn't so sure.

DEFINITION OF BRAND STRATEGY

Unfortunately, a holistic strategy approach towards online brand building -- the kind that involves thinking through the basics of one's overall business strategy before starting a Facebook fan page -- is still very rare.  In this sense, a smart brand strategy, which is essentially your company's business strategy that focuses on building a strong brand on all levels of your company, from logistics to customer service to web design, can definitely be the way to go.

SOME TIPS BEFORE YOU GO ONLINE

To give you some tips on what should be kept in mind before launching your brand's presence on the web, here is a short presentation that I had prepared for last week's business development conference.   These slides are pretty general, but if applied in the right way to YOUR company, they can create amazing results.

Nike Just Does It Digitally

Today I want to share a very good overview of how Nike is keeping its brand alive digitally. It's quite a lengthy article, but those funky brandsters with a lot of curiosity for building brands online should definitely check it out here. According to this article, Nike doesn't do TV ads. At all. Most of its advertising budget goes into creating cool video content. Promotions kind of "take care of themselves" virally because the content is good to start with -- entertaining and enjoyable.

"We don't do advertising any more. We just do cool stuff," says Nike's UK Marketing chief Simon Pestridge. "It sounds a bit wanky, but that's just the way it is. Advertising is all about achieving awareness, and we no longer need awareness. We need to become part of people's lives and digital allows us to do that."

And here are a couple videos that can give you a bit of a flavor of Nike's digital mindset:

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Funky brand pick of the week: Gaggia coffee machines

gaggiaredI heard about Gaggia espresso coffee machines for the first time about three years ago, when I was sipping my morning coffee in Florence and thinking how beautiful  Cupola del Brunelleschi looked in the sun. The sunshine and smiles of people passing by created a wonderful spring atmosphere in Florence. On top of that, the coffee I was drinking was superb. I had a chat with the owner of the coffee shop, telling him how much I'd like to have the same coffee at home, and he revealed his big secret to me: apart from buying the best coffee beans, you gotta make your coffee in Gaggia machines. Naturally, he had one of those in his pasticceria as well.

Although I do try to buy best quality coffee, I never bought myself a Gaggia. The question is not really the price – although automatic machines can cost up to 1000 Euros, you can get a traditional one for around 200 Euros. The thing is, I simply forgot about Gaggia, and nobody had reminded me about it after that trip to Florence, until a friend of mine proudly demonstrated a new shiny Gaggia in her kitchen the other day. She bought it following her friend's recommendation.

With little cash spent on advertising, Gaggia relies mainly on word-of-mouth marketing to support sales of its coffee machines. This includes word-of-mouth on the web: Gaggia is recommended and reviewed on a large number of coffee-related Internet forums. Consumer-generated Gaggia YouTube videos and related blog posts are abundant. A social media paradise for a marketer!

The question is, of course, whether Gaggia is doing anything with this buzz. If the company wants to stay on top of competition and sustain the strong brand, it should consider capturing value. Luckily, there are definitely many ways to do this.