The Kids Are Alright: the Mutual Benefits of Mentoring

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Teaching creators at the Creators x Singapore Media Festival Ignite event about how to work with clients / potential sponsors.

 

Sulu: “She’s supposed to have Transwarp drive.”
Scotty: “Aye. And if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon.”
Kirk: “Come, come, Mr. Scott. Young minds, fresh ideas. Be tolerant.”

That bit of dialog, from the motion picture Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), depicts how an older generation is typically cynical of the ideas of a younger generation simply because…they’re new. Personally, I could never understand the stereotype that the older one gets, the more intolerant one becomes of the younger generation. I believe that one of the reasons why I have managed to constantly adapt to different industries and reinvent my career over more than two decades is because I find there is always something new to learn. And more often than not, those lessons come from people much younger than myself.

Most people will credit a mentor for being the guiding hand in their careers but for me (although I have my own mentors, too) much of the guidance I recall comes from people that I managed. Most of what I know about influencer marketing, I learned from a young lady who introduced me to toy designers in Japan and content publishers in Thailand while working at Nokia. Most of what I know about search marketing, I learned from a young man in his 20s whom we had just hired when I worked at Wego.com. Even today, I continue to learn about transmedia disciplines, storytelling workshops and content creation from my (much younger) social media team at Mediacorp. Among the many highlights of my time as part of the digital transformation team at Mediacorp is the chance to work with and learn from students, young entrepreneurs and content creators.

Through the Mediapreneur program, I work on and mentor local technology startups. In many ways, the opportunity to regularly interact with young minds with fresh ideas, attitudes unencumbered by corporate politics and bullshit, have been a welcome respite from the doldrums of working within a large corporate organization. The hope that many of the technologies, solutions and approaches they develop will soon be a part of Mediacorp’s media ecosystem.

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Our Mediapreneur startups and mentors gather at the Mediacorp Campus.

This year, I was also part of Mediacorp’s partnership with Nanyang Technological University’s Peak program, where their best students are put into groups of five and given a real business problem to tackle. Two teams I was assigned to mentor where tasked to provide recommendations on how to best utilize Mediacorp’s radio / digital audio assets in order to stay relevant to the 18-35 year-old audience.

NTU Peak
The NTU Peak students meet members of Mediacorp’s radio team to hear their ideas on how to make our digital audio strategy relevant to Millennials.

Listening to these students talk about their attitudes towards “radio” — more accurately described as digital streaming audio — was a genuine eye-opener to myself as well as our own radio teams.

More recently, I have been working with the content creators in Bloomr.sg, Mediacorp’s own creator network. Part of the Singapore Media Festival, Bloomr hosted Creators x SMF Ignite, a workshop where YouTube and Instagram creators from Southeast Asia learn from seasoned content marketers, advertising and media practitioners about how to develop media strategies and campaigns for advertisers.

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Industry veterans and YouTube & Instagram creators meet at the Creators x SMF Ignite event.

The two-day event culminated in an activity where groups respond to campaign briefs that are judged by veterans from advertising agencies, Mediacorp’s own Brand Studio and myself.

While I admit there is satisfaction in the knowledge that I am able to impart some wisdom from my own career, I continue to find the interaction with younger colleagues both educational and rewarding. The learning never stops and, as a wise man once said, you must always be ready to “unlearn what you gave learned.”

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Brand Storytelling is Crucial to Achieving Loyalty

Loyalty to a brand stems from share values and values are conveyed through the stories a brand tells

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Humans have passed on information and values since men first told stories using oral narration and cave paintings.

 

Brand loyalty goes beyond product. While having a strong product obviously helps, in many categories the difference between one product or another isn’t always obvious or tangible. Does Starbucks truly make the best cup of coffee in the world? Or the cheapest? Is there really a remarkable difference between the 200 brands of shampoo on the shelf when you walk into a store?
This is especially true in low involvement categories like financial institutions or telecommunications service providers. How often does one think about his insurance company or his mobile phone provider, for example? For these cases, the differentiation isn’t just product but also customer experience and, of course, the customer’s opinion of the brand.

The most powerful brands are the ones whose values are so clearly defined that they don’t shy away from taking a stand on issues, even controversial ones. Many tech companies in the United States banded together to voice their support of “Dreamers” and decry the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz took a gutsy position on LGBTQ rights when he said, “If you don’t like marriage equality, feel free to sell your Starbucks stock.”

Part of telling a good brand story is taking a stand, even at the risk of putting off some existing customers. As a result of the coffee giant’s position on same-sex marriage, the #boycottStarbucks movement was formed. But clearly Starbucks had taken that potential backlash into account and decided it was worth the risk. They believed it would endear them to a larger audience and further cement loyalty among customers who felt the same way on the issue.

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At the “Loyalty in the Age of Disloyalty” panel discussion at Mumbrella 360: I am joined Facebook’s Geoffrey Pickens (left) and Circles.life’s Megan Yulga (middle) on how to win brand loyalty from today’s increasingly fickle consumers.

 

Brand storytelling comes in different forms. Including advertising and, increasingly, content marketing. Industry giant GE, for example, demonstrates its role as a leader in technology and innovation through its GE Reports website. Through both written stories and video, GE’s team of journalists report daily on the company’s breakthroughs across multiple industries, from medical technology to power generation.

Brands often partner with media companies or publishers to share brand stories. Last month, Johnson & Johnson Vision partnered with ChannelNewsAsia.com to build awareness and dispel misconceptions about eye disease, portraying patients and their life-changing experiences after cataract surgery.

When it comes to telling a brand story with intriguing characters and a compelling narrative, video is the medium of choice. Earlier this year, VISA in Thailand moved audiences with #TokyoUnexpected, the story of a young woman’s journey of self-discovery while traveling alone through Japan. Despite its nearly 15-minute run time — considered long by conventional content marketing standards — the video has already seen over 20 million views on YouTube and Facebook and is considered a viral hit.

Loyalty, the act of consistently choosing your brand over others, stems from trust. Trust, as with people, comes from shared values. If the consumer feels a brand adheres to the same principles that he himself holds dear, then he is more likely to remain loyal to that brand.

Those brand values are conveyed through the stories the brand tells. Storytelling is an key part of what makes us human. It is through stories that information and values are passed from one person to the next, from one generation to the other.

This article is part of a series called ‘Unlearn What You Have Learned: Rethinking Content Marketing with Lessons from Hollywood.’ A version of this article was originally published in Marketing Interactive.

Culture’s vital role in digital transformation

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It’s no secret that the traditional media industry faces challenges. Today consumers are experiencing an unprecedented era of choice, not just in variety, but also how and when they choose to consume content. Traditional media companies are under extreme pressure to digitally transform and national broadcasters like Mediacorp are not exempt from this grim reality.

Often when it comes to digital transformation, much of the emphasis is on organizational restructuring, new processes or technology upgrades. But from experience, the role of culture is always underestimated. Without a deliberate plan to change company culture, any new initiatives will simply fall to the wayside as legacy and old habits inevitably creep in.

Recently I spoke at the Singapore Management Festival, hosted by the Singapore Institute of Management, and shared my experiences with Mediacorp’s digital transformation journey.

Media: a disrupted industry

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals, among many things, the erosion of trust in media, with traditional media reflecting the sharpest decline. The shift is a reflection of influence flipping: from a traditional model where what is deemed fit for public consumption is decided by a minority such as the government or other institutions to a system where anyone can be a publisher. What good are state controls when a blogger or YouTube creator can enjoy a larger audience than a newspaper columnist or a television news program?

The changes are also impacting media companies where it hurts most: their traditional revenue models. Consumers are increasingly rejecting classic forms of advertising, from the 30-second TV commercial to the ubiquitous online banner ad. This is evident whenever a consumer pays for a Netflix subscription or installs an ad blocker on their smartphone.

In order to counteract these shifting behaviors, media companies must reinvent their approaches to content creation and distribution. Mediacorp is making inroads into these new spaces, such as its foray into OTT video streaming through Toggle, the development of its own creator network Bloomr.sg and even embracing Transmedia storytelling with popular programs like Tanglin.

Innovating means embracing risk-taking

It’s not unusual these days for large, incumbent corporations to borrow language from Silicon Valley. One of the most often invoked phrases is the need for companies to “fail fast.”  Too often, this is pure lip service.

Announcing that you are encouraging employees to take risks means nothing if employees continue to fear the consequences of failure. I once worked for a company where one of its senior executives would frequently encourage risk-taking by publicly announcing, “Don’t worry, if you fail nobody will kill you.” During one such townhall, a colleague leaned over to me and whispered, “Yesterday I was in a meeting with him and he told all of us, ‘You’d better be right because if you’re wrong, I will f**king kill you.’”

Trust is a two-way street. If you want to build an innovation culture where employees are emboldened to take chances, a company must demonstrate that it trusts its employees.

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Full control of the corporate Twitter handle @Mediacorp is given to a different employee each week

One way Mediacorp has demonstrated trust towards staff is with its Twitter rotation curation. Since July, Mediacorp has been giving full control of its official corporate Twitter handle to a single employee for a week. During that week the employee can, quite literally, post anything he or she wants. No mandated content calendar or schedule. No screening or approval process. For seven days, the employee has the reputation of the whole company in his hands.

 

Celebrate individuality

Often companies will focus on more outward manifestations of promoting creativity and individuality: casual dress codes, recreational facilities, etc. While Mediacorp has embraced those things in its own way (including an open seating concept within the Mediacorp Campus building), we turned as well to social media as an instrument for driving cultural change.  

In many companies, especially in Singapore, the typical employee’s attitude towards social media goes something like this: “I’d better keep things low key or I might attract the attention of HR.” A colleague once told me when I asked why she wasn’t more active in LinkedIn, she explained, “My boss might think I’m looking for another job.”

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Presenting at the Singapore Management Festival with my partner-in-crime, Nadeem Ashraf (right)

Earlier this year, Mediacorp began encouraging its staff to be more active in social media by sharing their stories. Since April, over 60 individuals have been featured in the corporate Instagram account, each with a personal story in a style inspired by the Humans of New York series. These stories are meant to celebrate the different backgrounds, personalities and inspirations behind the people of Mediacorp.

Also read: the importance of skills & capability training and celebrating champions

During the presentation at SIM, another speaker referred to the Human Resources department as a bottleneck or obstacle towards cultural change. My experience at Mediacorp has actually been the opposite. In contrast HR (demonstrated by my co-presenter, Nadeem Ashraf), together with colleagues from the corporate communications team, have very much been our “partners-in-crime” for all of the initiatives referred to here. Far from being hurdles, these pushes for cultural change have only been possible through the triumvirate of HR, Brand & Communications and the Digital team.

Mediacorp’s digital transformation journey is still very much in its early years but I take great pride in the accomplishments we have made so far.

Listen: brand storytelling, content marketing and transmedia storytelling in Click2View’s podcast

What Brands must consider when selecting an influencer

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With the rapid growth in social media and content marketing, there is greater interest than ever among brands to embark on “influencer” campaigns. Recently, I participated in a panel discussion at Content 360 in Singapore where this topic was discussed.

Here are a few things for brands to consider before working with influencers:

  1. Look beyond the numbers

Very often influencers are shortlisted by brands purely because of their follower numbers. But the value of an influencer isn’t strictly a numbers game. Take a look at who I follow on Instagram: There’s @PatLaw, a personal friend and founder of social media agency Goodstuph, by many measures a prominent figure in the Singapore media & marketing scene. She has over 7,000 followers. And then there’s @dreamerthepeskywestie with nearly 15,000 followers. Dreamer is a dog.

Brands should look into the demographic makeup of an influencer’s audience as well as their geographic origins. A Singapore-based brand might find an influencer with over 20,000 followers exciting, without realizing that half of her followers might be from other countries. Unfortunately, platforms like Instagram don’t always natively offer such analytics capabilities. Consider using an analytics tool such as that offered by a company like Popular Chips.*

  1. Influencers are also brands

One way to evaluate an influencer is to think of them as a brand in their own right. In which case, the influencer is evaluated in the same way a brand manager considers a partnership with another brand. Does your brand benefit from being associated with that brand? Does that brand’s reputation bring benefits or risks to your brand? Does that brand have sway over an audience that you consider valuable yet currently has  no interest in your brand?

GujiThe strongest brand partnerships are when two brands bring distinct audiences together. For example, when LEGO partnered with Star Wars, this bridged generations of both parents and children. Now parents (who were probably kids themselves when Star Wars first opened in 1977) can relive their childhood with their children, forming a stronger bond than ever through LEGO. That’s the kind of value an influencer should be able to lend your brand.

That’s not to say you need to spend millions of dollars in a partnership of the LEGO-Star Wars scale. Recently Caltex partnered with Mediacorp’s Channel 8 by simply having their mascot Caltex Boy appear next to Channel 8’s family-friendly mascot Guji-Guji in a Facebook post.

  1. Define the influencer’s role in the marketing funnel

Wowed by numbers, many marketers simply look at influencers as a way to get cheap reach. This kind of thinking is naïve and just plain sloppy. A good marketer knows his budget needs to cover the whole marketing funnel, from awareness to consideration to conversion, and knows the role each channel plays within.

Is your influencer marketing really just about expanding your reach into new markets? The value could also come from giving your brand more credibility within an audience that would not have thought of you otherwise. (In other words, impacting the consideration part of the funnel.) Example: by partnering with Youtube influencers like Pewdiepie and Mr Sunday Movies, “comic-con in a box” geek swag company Loot Crate built instant credibility with the video game / scifi / fantasy / comic book crowd.

Knowing which part of the funnel your influencer plays will be crucial in measuring results. For example, tracking clicks from an influencer’s post may not give you a dramatic increase in transactions (especially in comparison to other channels like paid search). But with the right tracking you could discover that a follower of your influencer is 20% more likely to convert because of this new brand association.

Watch comedian Hossan Leong take over Singtel’s Twitter account in 2013 influencer campaign

  1. Values matter

Lastly, if values matter to brands then your choice of influencer should also be about values. Your brand should stand for something…how does that sit with what the influencer stands for? Do the influencer’s values complement or reinforce your own brand’s values? Or does she contradict them?

Arguably the most high-profile example of an influencer campaign gone wrong is Pepsi’s brief but damaging romp with reality TV star Kendall Jenner. Pepsi was clearly trying to align itself with the new, emerging political awareness in the US among young people. Instead, they came across as simply capitalizing on the movement to sell more soda pop. While one could argue that Pepsi got many things wrong with the execution of this campaign, its choice of influencer in this case could have made a big difference. What values does Kendall Jenner represent? Does her reputation include speaking out on political issues? How would it have helped Pepsi’s credibility if they had instead selected an influencer who was a known political activist?

This is also why I’m not a fan of buying “influence” through influencer networks. While a brand partnership requires meticulous research and evaluation, an influencer network acts on your brand’s behalf with the precision of a grenade thrown into a crowded market on a Sunday. How do you know that every single “influencer” in this network offers the right amount of synergy with your brand? Critically, how many of them have the potential to damage your brand by sheer association?

Working with influencers should be treated with the respect and gravity of any other brand alliance. The exercise can be very tricky but also vastly rewarding. Marketers should consider the risk as an opportunity to stretch your brand beyond its current constraints, potentially delivering value well beyond what a regular paid media campaign can deliver.

*Full disclosure: Popular Chips is a Singapore-based startup and part of Mediacorp’s Mediapreneur incubator programme.

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