online branding

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.

Right moment, right message, right place: how to build luxury brands using social media

Is it time for luxury brands to get engaged in more pro-active marketing in social media, or does the concept go against their brand values? This blog posts addresses these issues and gives a couple of examples to illustrate them.

A one-man wine show: Gary Vaynerchuk and Wine Library TV

Gary Vay-ner-chuk: a true personal brand and a successful business, developed through accessibility of social media. This article is about Gary's views on branding.

Noukie's – a soft and cuddly Belgian brand


It's been a while since I last posted a story on my blog! I have a good excuse though for my silence in cyberspace – my own “funky project”, a little boy Jason who was born at the end of May. Now he is almost 4 months old, and I decided to restart blogging with a small review of a Belgian kids' brand called Noukie's (www.noukies.com).

I discovered Noukie's 3 years ago, when my daughter, then a small baby, received a toy horse Pinto as a present. I thought it was an amazing toy – very colorful, cheerful and, importantly, amazingly soft. The softness of Noukie's toys and baby clothes is what makes them so special. Every time I pass by a Noukie's store in Brussels, it's full of people touching, touching, touching the soft toys and clothes.

In my view, one of the best things about Noukie's is that the company never stops producing its initial range of toy characters – so that, if a favorite toy is lost, it can be easily replaced by a duplicate which can be ordered online. Recently, the company has started producing DVDs and books with films and stories featuring its famous characters and apparently kids love them.

All the fluff and softness of the brand, however, doesn't come across when visiting the company's site. Although Noukie's was named the company of the year in 2007 in Belgium (a title awarded by the local branch of Ernst and Young), I think it will have to do some serious work on their web site in order to continue carrying this title, and becoming a true love mark. Right now, the user experience on www.noukies.com is nothing to write home about. Small text, seemingly random placement of tabs, and a bit annoying for my taste flash animations. In short, one of the many examples of a potentially funky brand which is not using the power of the World Wide Web to its advantage!

Chocolate and Online Branding – Sweet Dreams or Bitter Reality?

I couldn’t resist an impulse purchase of two tiny boxes of Pierre Marcolini chocolates on Place du Grand Sablon in Brussels this morning; even though I had to pay 16 Euros for the pleasure! I wandered around the stylish shop, carefully examining nicely wrapped chocolate goodies displayed on its two floors and wondering about the relevance of brand building in the chocolate business.

If buying chocolate has mostly an impromptu character, isn’t it just enough to care about having attractive shop windows that are enough of a catch to lure customers in, or do chocolate producers need to care about building longer-term relations with their customers? While the latter option seems obvious to me, Belgium is full of small shops with a very local reputation that sell superior quality chocolate, but who have probably never considered setting aside a chunk of their budget to try to build a brand – or wouldn't know where to start.

Some “chocolatiers”, like Pierre Marcolini, and some others, have embarked on the path of trying to make their names known across Belgium and abroad. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, at least on the local Belgian scene, Marcolini has succeeded in making its name known to chocolate-loving connoisseurs. The major achievement of Marcolini in this respect has, in my view, been an attempt to give its shops an ultramodern look that immediately set them aside from smaller old-fashioned competitors. But if Pierre Marcolini cares about its further growth and international recognition – after all, it has opened stores in the US, Kuwait, Japan, UK, Luxembourg and France –it might consider giving a bit more thought to improving its online presence and making it part of its wider brand-building strategy. In order to do so, it would first of all need to take a fresh look at its web site.

Let’s look at the Belgian site of the chocolate producer -- www.marcolini.be (why not include the name “Pierre” in the domain name?) -- from the usability point of view;

The main page brings us to a flyer for the recently published book “Eclats” that is said (in tiny text that I could read only by moving my face very close to the computer screen) to be available in a range of shops. There are no details about the contents of the book (I suppose it has to do with chocolate) and reasons why anyone would want to buy it.

The main page then gives you some further options for surfing: three language options (French, Dutch and English), as well as “Site Map”. A click on the English version leads to the story about Pierre Marcolini himself, and “Company” provides a snapshot of the main achievements of the brand in chronological order. The tab “Collections” is empty for the moment, and “Events” hasn’t been updated for a while. The page “Contact” briefly mentions a possibility of buying corporate gifts, but the link where further information about them is supposed to be displayed, is “In the construction.”

As I am very used to the fact that on web pages in Belgium content information often differs depending on the language, I attempt to reach the Pierre Marcolini page in both French and Dutch. But it’s not an easy task! I can’t access the language options by clicking on “Home”, so I need to shorten the now expanded domain name address to www.marcolini.be again, in order to reach the main page with the info about “Eclats”. Voila! The French version of the page contains a new tab unavailable in English, “Solutions enterprise” or “Company gifts”. It contains a small collage of chocolate boxes with text below them mentioning that these, indeed, are company gifts. However, no further information is provided on how to order these gifts! Same thing on the page in Dutch – no further info on the subject.

Given its international presence, I was hoping to come across a corporate site of Pierre Marcolini, but what I´ve found was a number or local, country-specific sites. For instance, the US site www.marcolinichocolatier.com gives some facts about the business, but looks quite incomplete. The tab ¨online shop¨ redirects you yet to another site, www.pierremarcolini-na.com. The latter, in its turn, does not seem to be fully functional as some of the goods described just don´t want to go into the shopping cart!

Apart from the imperfections of the mentioned sites, someone at the company must have nevertheless thought about the consistency of visual identity – the shop design, packaging and some elements of the web sites follow more or less the same color and style pattern.

What strikes me in particular, is the discrepancy between Marcolini´s grandiose shop in a stylish location, and its quite undeveloped web sites, mediocre both from the conceptual and technical points of view. Even if strengthening its brand through a variety of online initiatives might not be Marcolini´s strategic priority at the moment, the company should at least boost the look and feel of its web sites, as well as think of using the brand name consistently throughout the country-specific sites. This seems especially important since the chocolate maker is pursuing the path of e-commerce. Imagine how important it would be to help foreign visitors to Brussels relive their pleasant chocolate shopping experience online! Then, thousands miles away from the gorgeous flagship store, they would continue being fans of the brand. And aren´t most brands dreaming of such a ¨lovemarks¨ effect?1

1. Described by Kevin Roberts in “The Lovemarks Effect”, PowerHouseBooks, NY, 2006