Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Government and the social life of brands - how to benefit from interacting with customers through social media

Everyone knows what brands are, 'products' that have been strongly linked to a specific (brand) name, lifestyle, belief or emotional attachment in order to establish their relative value to consumers.

As defined by David Ogilvy, a brand is:
The intangible sum of a product's attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it's advertised.
Brands can be established around tangible and intangible goods and services, organisations or people - think Aston Martin, Coca-cola, David Beckham and Kevin Rudd.

Kevin Rudd? Yes I believe that government also has brands. Organisations such as Centrelink, ATO and Medicare, products such as e-Tax and people such as the Prime Minister all exhibit the traits of brands and can be marketed and promoted in that manner.

This makes it relevant to consider the latest report on the social life of brands from Ogilvy International, Can brands have a social life? How brands in Asia can benefit from interacting with customers through social media (PDF).

This report, discussed through their Open Room blog, looks at how social media is being used across Asia to accelerate and reshape the dialogue between citizens and between citizens and brands (including government).

In each of the twelve countries featured (China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam) the experience is slightly different in flavour, however the overall them and trend is the same.

This theme reflects the same experience in western countries such as the US, UK and Australia.

To pull out a few important themes considered in the report,
  • Consumer opinion counts more than ever
  • Social media is a pivotal part of the consumer's digital ecosystem
  • The Y-Generation live their lives in social media and if you’re not talking to them,
  • someone else will
  • Social media is all about managing 'influencers', creating a dialogue with the most important influencers and having them spread the word for you
  • Letting go of the brand is a reality of social media and it’s critical that the brand’s senior management fully understand the implications, and are willing to take the risk as well as commit resource
  • Social media success has to be embedded in honesty and trust by playing to the brand’s core values and ideals. No falsifications
  • Brands that disclose conflicts of interest, are responsive to questions, and permit negative as well as positive discussion are most likely to get accepted.
  • Brands need to be willing to contribute to be accepted in social media. Even to go as far as contributing unconditionally.
It is interesting to watch organisations struggle to accept and adopt some of the mindset shifts embodied in the themes above as they take their first steps into online participation.

Truth, honesty, openness and collaboration are all values that are highly regarded but are often difficult for organisations to embody.

I think the real dilemma many organisations, particularly in the public sector, need to first address is how to reshape their own culture and values to allow them to fruitfully engage online.

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