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Brand Management

Brands Must Proactively Build Systems Of Trust

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Brand Strategy Uber

As any banker will tell you, the moment a bank is forced to ask depositors for trust is the very moment at which, for all practical purposes, that bank becomes insolvent. A run is sure to ensue. Nobody wants their money in a bank with even the slightest chance of losing it. The mere mention of trust spooks people.

Financial regulators know this. Saving banks from having to ask for trust is one of the main purposes of deposit insurance. Government guarantees that all account losses will be made whole give troubled banks a turnaround chance they wouldn’t get if they had to ask customers to keep calm and just trust them. These guarantees are one part, if not the key part, of the system for trust.

Trust is a third rail for every kind of business or brand. It is an intangible requisite for staying in business of which companies dare not speak. As soon as you ask for it, you lose it. If trust cannot be taken for granted in the everyday course of business, if trust is not beyond question, then customers immediately jump to the conclusion that something is out of sorts.

Trust is in scarce supply nowadays, so many brand marketers have made trust a prominent part of their communications strategy. But asking for it is not the way to win back the confidence of wary customers. The solution is to have the systems in place needed to guarantee it.

Many argue that the locus of trust these days has pivoted from institutions like brands to networks of peers. Certainly, peers are more important than ever, but peers alone are not enough to guarantee trust.

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Brand Marketing

Rethinking Digital Customer Engagement

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Digital Brand Strategy

The biggest technology trend these days is about less of it not more. Perhaps most emblematic of this is the Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetic for which Chicago artist Leo Salvaggio is currently crowdsourcing funding. It’s an anti-surveillance mask fabricated so that facial recognition systems see it as Leo’s face. It’s not the first or only thing Leo has created to enable other people to hide their identities behind his. His URME project is beta testing video facial encryption software, and his You Are Me project gives people the ability to assume his digital profile when using social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Mind you, Salvaggio is not anti-technology. He just wants boundaries, places where technology is not allowed to go. So does artist Adam Harvey, who created a clothing line called Stealth Wear. Harvey’s hoodie, scarf and burqa are all made with a metalized fabric that impedes thermal imaging. Harvey believes that as technological surveillance grows, people will want tools like his clothing to reassert control over their privacy.

Worries about the overreach of technology are growing as commercial enterprises, not just law enforcement or national security agencies, beef up their databases and surveillance. For example, Google and Facebook have been enhancing their facial recognition capabilities through acquisitions and applications development, though not without controversy. In the face of heavy criticism, Google Glass dropped plans to include a beta version of NameTag, an app that can instantly match a face with a person’s name, occupation and Facebook profile. In fact, ever since Google Glass was first unveiled in 2012, wearers have been faced with forceful, often ferocious, hostility from people who don’t want to be photographed or recorded without their permission.

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Brand Watch

Facebook: Just Another Brand Marketer

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Facebook Brand Marketing

The word is out. Big headlines. Facebook is running experiments with users’ news feeds. Apparently, shock and outrage are in order. But, honestly, I’m not sure why. From the outside looking in, it appears to be nothing more than garden-variety brand marketing, and ineffective to boot.

For one week two years ago, Facebook stage-managed the order in which people saw posts in their news feeds. Some saw happy posts at the top of their news feeds; others saw sad posts. The experiment was designed to see whether the emotional sentiment of the posts users saw first affected users’ moods or posting. In its analysis of this experiment, Facebook found “emotional contagion,” which is to say that the sentiment of news feeds did affect the sentiment and amount of users’ subsequent posts, and thus, presumably, the mood of users themselves.

Two things stand out. First, the observed effects were tiny. The argument has been made that even small effects over a large population of Facebook users add up to a big shift. But this argument is sleight-of-hand. The bigger cumulative impact of a small effect is still small relative to Facebook as a whole. Critics claim that the one-tenth of one percent observed effect adds up to hundreds of thousands of posts per day. That’s true, but every minute there are over 290,000 status updates and over 130,000 photo uploads. Per day, that’s over 417 million status updates and over 187 million photo uploads. A few hundred thousand is a lot but still a miniscule percentage of the total. In short, even cumulatively, a small effect is a small effect.

Moreover, statistically speaking, the size of the sample used by Facebook almost certainly had too much power. Nearly 700,000 users were included in the Facebook experiment. In a sample that large, almost everything will turn out to be statistically significant, a problem known as Type II error. This is a classic power problem with over-large samples, and the usual interpretation of such miniscule effects is to regard them as merely suggestive until validated by more precisely designed follow-up research. Huge samples make everything statistically significant, including a lot of observed effects that are nothing but chance fluctuations in the data. Simply put, there is no cause for alarm that Facebook has mastered mind control.

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Brand Research

The New Roles Of Marketers And Researchers

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What is it, exactly, that brand marketers want to do? Maybe this question only makes sense to marketing researchers like me because to many researchers it seems that, increasingly, marketers want us to do their jobs. I’m not being critical. I’m just wondering what the role of brand marketers will become if, or more likely when, researchers step up to the biggest strategic roles that marketers fill today.

For decades, but especially lately, marketing researchers have been criticized for not being trusted strategic advisors. A surfeit of technical mastery but a dearth of insight. A project orientation instead of a relationship orientation. Too much reporting; too little storytelling.

This criticism has been taken to heart. The shared view within the research profession is that the future of marketing research must be built on two new competencies – consulting and synthesis.

Simon Chadwick and Ian Lewis, partners at Cambiar and ex-senior researchers, have included among the consulting skills that researchers will need to master such things as value creation, stakeholder alignment, opportunity identification, creating intellectual property and communicating for impact. That certainly sounds like things marketers do.

Similarly, Stan Sthanunathan, head of global insights at Unilever and formerly at Coke, has said that the role of researchers must be to “provide provocation and inspiration that drive transformation and actions that generate growth,” which means “dreaming about the future and taking our customers there.” In other words, inspiration for brand leadership, and that, too, sounds like marketing.

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Branding Trends

Brand Building In A Hi-Tech World

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Evgeny Morozov is a scold. Little if anything about the direction in which digital technologies are moving these days meets with his approval.

Morozov is not alone. A small coterie of other like-minded critics – Nicholas Carr, Sherry Turkle and Jaron Lanier, chief among them – have added their voices to a Greek chorus of Cassandras chiding consumers that 21st century digital technologies are a Trojan horse imperiling civil society and personal well-being.

It goes without saying that digital technologies are upending all aspects of life. Every sweeping change like this, whatever its motive force – technology, demographics, the economy, politics – comes with challenges that menace the opportunities. But before we throw the digital baby out with the bath water, let’s put the apprehensions in perspective and ponder our digital futures in more constructive ways. Unlike public intellectuals who earn their keep by stoking our anxieties, brand marketers must fashion real-world solutions that negotiate trade-offs to deliver value propositions that measure up to our manifold hopes and dreams about the good life.

Fears that technological advances have unleashed a fast-approaching social apocalypse are at least as old as Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic, Frankenstein, originally sub-titled, The Modern Prometheus, which was published barely a generation after the first stirrings of the Industrial Revolution.

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