What Brands should consider when selecting an influencer

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loot-crate

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.

Promote the Most Important Brand Of All: Your Own

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improving-your-personal-brand

For my parents’ generation, career advice was relatively straightforward: get a high-paying job with a large, stable company and you’re pretty much set up for life. Even today, this is still considered conventional wisdom, especially in Asia where large conglomerates dominate several industries. I once had one of those “stable” jobs, a marketing management position with a multinational company called Nokia, at the height of its dominance as the world’s largest mobile handset manufacturer. We all know what’s happened to Nokia since then.

The truth is, there is no such thing as a stable job anymore. Last year the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported the average employee tenure for technology companies is three years, or less than two years in advanced markets like the UK. (The same report quoted that the average employee tenure at tech giant Google was only 1.1 years.) Whatever we once believed as the covenant between employee-employer is now a thing of the past. There is every likelihood that a marketer, either by choice or by circumstance, will be moving from one employer to another every few years. Yet the average marketer still neglects to look after the most important brand of all: his own personal brand.

Author Reid Hoffman goes one step further, arguing that one should manage his career as if it were a start-up (The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, available on Amazon). A simpler way to start is to ask yourself: What can we learn about how the world’s biggest brands are managed and how can they be applied to your career as a marketer?

Great brands are unique

What is your personal brand’s unique selling proposition? Identify what it is in your field that you specialize in. It’s not enough on your CV or LinkedIn profile to say that you manage ad agencies and are responsible for CRM. Instead specify how you specialize in transforming traditional marketing organizations into digital marketing organizations. Talk about how you have a track record for gleaning new marketing strategies from analyzing available data. Share how you have taken many US brands and made them relevant across multiple Asian cultures.

Recount your past successes and, in all likelihood, recurring themes will emerge. Stick with those themes and elaborate on them through blog posts, drawing on examples from your career or from your observations in the industry. Volunteer to speak on these topics at conferences or media interviews. A powerful brand’s uniqueness echoes across all forms of media. Your personal brand should be no different.

Great brands are authentic

The world’s most powerful brands are true to themselves, credible, consistent and never claim to be more than they are. A major Singapore company was recently caught paying bloggers to praise its services and malign the competitors’. Whenever a brand stoops to such inauthentic behavior, being found out is inevitable.

In a competitive job market, many fall to the temptation to overstate one’s qualifications or claim understanding of topics on which one actually has limited experience. This is unnecessary. Your own career offers a wealth of lessons and experiences to draw from. Authors are constantly advised, “Write what you know.” The same consideration must be taken in defining your own personal brand.

Great brands stand for something

Power brands have values and are not afraid to express them, even if it means alienating existing customers. Much has been written about Starbucks’ stance on diversity and marriage equality, which caused some conservative Americans to call for a boycott of the brand. CEO Howard Schultz admits publicly, “Not every decision is an economic decision.” The move may have been unpopular in some sectors but it also forged stronger bonds with a core set of loyal brand advocates.

Brand loyalty is built when a customer decides that a brand shares similar values. Similarly, as a brand, you should never shy away from having an opinion on something you feel strongly about. Too many Marketing blogs and social media posts are full of politically correct, often-repeated, safe content. They are also dull and indistinguishable. If you want your personal brand to stand out, take a stand on issues and passionately defend them.

Great brands form alliances

Apple Pay x MasterCard, Spotify x Uber, Adidas x Yohji Yamamoto, LEGO x Star Wars…great brands aren’t afraid to collaborate with other brands. Such associations can bridge a brand towards a different audience, others can nudge the brand away from its roots towards new areas.

In building your own personal brand, make sure to form relationships with others with similar domain expertise. If there is someone whose career you admire, reach out and meet over coffee. If you are in similar fields there should be no shortage of things to talk about. There’s no limit to what opportunities may result. This is where social networks liked LinkedIn can also be a powerful tool.

Now more than ever, your career needs to stand for much more than simply which company you currently work for. Identify your career’s strengths and start putting together a strategy for how to grow your own personal brand.

A version of this article was published in Marketing magazine’s January-February 2016 issue.

5 tips for digital content

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Presenting at Content 360 in Singapore

SingTel has spent the last three years refining and investing in its social media and digital content strategy. In the last year alone, SingTel has produced a wide variety of content, from educational infographics to award winning video campaigns like #Need4GSpeed and #HawkerHeroes.

For brands looking to venture into digital content designed for social media for the first time, the path forward might look daunting and pockmarked with risks. Here are five tips to guide you:

1. Aim for the heart, not the head

One of the first things we learned from working with the giant social media network Facebook was the useful sanity-check question: “Why will they care; why will they share?”

When a consumer decides to share a video or re-tweet an article, it is usually either because he found the content thoroughly upsetting (to which the reaction was “I have to share this!”) or he found the content so amusing (to which the reaction was “I have to share this!”).

#HawkerHeroes worked particularly well for SingTel not just because of the presence of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay but also because it delved into an issue close to Singaporeans’ hearts: local heritage and cuisine.

As tempted as it sometimes gets to fill marketing content with information, just remember that if this was only about appealing to rational minds, social media would be about the viral distribution of white papers.

2.Accept the fact that you are not Ellen DeGeneres

“Please make this viral” is a phrase social media marketers dread. Too often, making a material viral is seen as the only goal worth pursuing. But unlike Ms Degeneres, most mere mortals (or brands) will never be responsible for the next Most Retweeted Tweet in History.

Instead, understand where this piece of content fits into your overall campaign strategy. Is it meant to educate? Or call attention to an issue? More realistic metrics such as video views or clicks to a campaign site would then be more sensible goals.

3. Have a good budget for production, but set aside a budget for distribution first

Often all the resources are poured into production with an expectation that something so brilliantly creative or funny is sure to go viral. (See Tip #2.) But even the best creative work is wasted if no one finds out it exists. Especially in today’s extremely cluttered media environment where hundreds of hours of video are being uploaded to Youtube every second, the chances of your shiny new video being discovered organically gets smaller by the day.

Combining an influencer outreach programme, traditional PR and an initial burst of paid media can give your content that boost it needs to get an audience’s attention and get that Share snowball rolling.

#HawkerHeroes, SingTel’s most successful campaign from last year, may have looked like a random viral campaign. But it only came to life through a complex, multi-channel strategy whose execution was planned down to the minute-by-minute detail.

4. Get your consumers involved

The best content campaigns are the ones where the audience gets in on the action. Consumers can be valuable co-creators, as we have seen in a number of campaigns from Old Spice to Oreo.

SingTel’s own #Need4GSpeed enlisted consumers to provide their best applications of a high speed mobile connection which were then translated into comedy sketches by comedian Hossan Leong.

5. Keep it simple

One common mistake brands make is to make participating in a campaign too complex, which can be an obstacle to a social media campaign’s success.

I personally prefer apply the “60-second Rule”. Ask yourself, would responding to the content or participating in the discussion take more than 60 seconds? Years ago, brands relied heavily on mechanics like photo submissions and anticipated no more than 10% of the audience would actually participate while the rest simply watched. Today the hashtag offers a much simpler way to participate and lowers barrier to entry.

Content-led social media campaigns need not be so daunting. While there are always risks, they can be extremely rewarding for any brand with the right concept and adequate planning.

This article was originally published in Marketing Interactive and was based on my presentation made at Content 360 on 3 April 2014 in Singapore. Full presentation below:

“Top Gun”

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Top Guntrophy

At the recently held year-end event of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Singapore, I was awarded the “Top Gun Award for Best Digital Champion”. The distinction was based on votes from industry peers in the digital media & marketing industry in Singapore.

The award is the result of nearly two years of hard work by my amazing team at SingTel and our partner agencies, Ogilvy and MEC.

In early 2011, we formed the first digital marketing team within SingTel, focused on expanding the digital capabilities of its marketing & communications team. Today, the team manages a Facebook community of over 200,000 fans, a Youtube channnel with over 1.5 million views and two Twitter channels. The team also oversees search and paid media activity, driving traffic and ecommerce transactions on SingTel’s online store, SingTelshop.com.

The award is much more meaningful because I was nominated alongside Damien Cummings of Samsung and Vernon Vasu of the Health Promotion Board, two fellow digital marketing practitioners whom I admire.

The Top Gun Award for Best Digital Champion was presented by Kelvin Ho of Innity (left) at the IAB Singapore 80s-themed “Retrolicisous” event at Zouk.

Finally, in keeping with the event’s “Retrolicious” 80s theme, I present the “Top Gun” theme for your enjoyment. Take it away, Steve Stevens (and his wig)!

Yeah. Perhaps someday it will be appropriate for me to wear a skin-tight silver jumpsuit at work.

When “Fans” go too far

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As a rule of thumb, you should not delete fan comments on your Facebook page. But you should also know when to draw the line. 

On 18 September 2012, SingTel announced that it had secured the rights to broadcast the UEFA Champion League on its MioTV service through the SingTel Facebook page. Because the announcement went out just hours before the season’s first game, the announcement drew criticism from a number of fans.

As community managers, one should always expect an angry comment here and there. (That’s why you have a Facebook page in the first place: to have a two-way dialogue with customers.) But this time one “fan” in particular crossed the line. He began to hurl very crude and very personal abuses at one of the Customer Care staff members who manages our page. (I won’t repeat the language used but if you’re really curious, you can browse through the discussion thread here.) This prompted me to post this in response:

While a few fans appreciated the show of support towards a team member, others quickly transferred their anger towards me. (One even went as far as to post my LinkedIn profile to the thread and encourage others to attack me directly.)

Was crying foul the right thing to do? Did it succeed in quieting the displeasure from the community? It’s naive to think a single comment is capable of instantly reversing sentiment but sometimes, that isn’t the point. Sometimes the point is standing up for what your values are and what your brand represents. In this case, SingTel’s Facebook team takes pride in having an open forum where customers can criticize our services. This includes allowing people to express themselves as emphatically as they want, even allowing the use of swear words and stretching the rules outlined in the page’s House Rules. This policy is what allows us to identify how we can improve our services and, often, even troubleshoot issues through our Facebook customer service team, as many customers have experienced first hand.

But leniency must have its bounds. We are also a company that stands up in defense of our own. Sometimes you need to remind people that (as a trusted industry colleague very nicely put it), “Just because you ‘like’ a page doesn’t give someone the right to act like an a#*ehole.”

This exchange with our Facebook community has attracted some attention and the incident was covered in today’s edition of Singapore tabloid The New Paper (see below).

You can read the online version of the article in The New Paper here.

There is also an ongoing discussion in HWZ forums here. (Just try to ignore all the racist comments.) Join the discussion or simply comment on this blog.

London Calling

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London Calling by phatfreemiguel
London Calling, a photo by phatfreemiguel on Flickr.

I was a guest of WPP at their recent eCommerce Tour in London. For two days we were given a glimpse into what is arguably the world’s most advanced eCommerce market, the UK. We also got to hear from some of the leaders in the field: representatives from the WPP group as well as global players like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

On the first day (Tuesday, 29 May), we were welcomed to one of London’s most stylish restaurants, Kettner’s, in the heart of Soho. Joining us for drinks was none other than Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP’s chief executive. There I met my fellow delegates, made up of representatives from some of WPP client’s major clients like Colgate-Palmolive, Diageo, British Airways, SAP,  Nestle, Kimberly Clark, Chanel, Danone, GlaxoSmithKline and Unilever, as well as WPP’s specialists from agencies Fitch, Ogilvy, Possible Worldwide and WPP itself.

The offices of online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter.com. Someday I would also like to work in an office with chandeliers.

On Day 2, we spent the morning at Google’s London office, where we picked up some insights on ecommerce and Google culture from their execs, including an unexpected visit by Google’s global CFO, Patrick Pichette. Next, we visited the offices of Burson Marsteller, where we listened to a panel discussion featuring UK-based online retailers Mydeco, Shopcade and Stylistpick, as well as Twitter. In the afternoon, we visited the rather spartan Amazon UK office in Slough and then the very stylish Net-a-Porter.com office in Westfield. We then had drinks and dinner with some of the UK’s most promising internet startups.

On Day 3, we visited Westfield Statford and adbsorbed some valuable learnings from WPP’s retail (and ecommerce) experts from Kantar Media Compete, Joule, Fitch and Ogilvy Action. We then spent the afternoon at Facebook’s UK office, listening to insights on Facebook commerce, analytics and online shopping from Buddy Media, Syzygy, Possible and mySupermarket.

All in all, the trip offered some excellent insights from the UK, a market whose advances in ecommerce and mobile put it ahead of most markets in the world. I also got to meet my counterparts in the field of digital marketing from some of the world’s best known brands and make some new friends (as well as catch up with some old ones).

For more pictures from my London trip, click here.

The view from the London Eye. Yes, I had a chance to do some sightseeing, too!

Using Social Media isn’t “Free”

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In the article “P&G To Lay Off 1,600 After Discovering It’s Free To Advertise On Facebook​” published in Business Insider, it is reported that one of the world’s biggest advertisers, Procter & Gamble, “would lay off 1,600 staffers, including marketers, as part of a cost-cutting exercise.”

P&G is one of many major marketing organizations finally waking up to the effectiveness and cost efficiency (when compared to traditional media like print and TV) of using digital media, especially social media like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

One troubling reference however is the notion that social media is “free”. While using social media as a communications channel is certainly very cost effective, especially on a cost-per-reach or cost-per-engagement basis, mounting an effective social media strategy does require sustained investment.

For example, SingTel has succeeded in growing its Facebook fan base from less than 8,000 fans in January 2011 to over 95,000 fans today by dedicating both team resources and marketing dollars towards content creation, web development and advertising. While growing the number of “fans” is not the goal in itself, having a larger fan community is what enables SingTel to spread its message to thousands of unique individuals without dramatic incremental costs. Having a large fan base is what allows each of our wall posts to appear on over 40,000 unique screens and our Youtube videos​ be viewed over 70,000 times. These are numbers that are on par with traditional media yet achieved at the fraction of the cost.