In digital age, branding becomes indispensable

Philippine Daily Inquirer, Business Features Section, August 10, 2012 

             Today, more than ever branding has become so important in a digital and social media environment.  As of 2011, the world’s population is estimated at 6.9 Bil people and nearly 1/3 of the world’s population or 2.2Bil people is internet connected. 

            The Philippines alone ranks no.7 in 2011 among Asia’s top ten internet countries with 29.7 Million netizens.

Asia Top Internet Countries12/31/2011
Country by RankInternet Users
1.  China513.0 Mil
2. India121.0 Mil
3. Japan101.2 Mil
4. Indonesia55.0 Mil
5. South Korea40.3 Mil
6. Vietnam30.5 Mil
7. Philippines29.7 Mil
8 Pakistan29.1 Mil
9. Thailand18.3 Mil
10. Malaysia17.7 Mil

   Beyond that, the Philippines was ranked worldwide as no. 8 among the countries with the most number of Facebook subscribers. This means that nearly 96% of total internet users in the Philippines subscribe to Facebook.

Top Ten countries on Facebook12/31/2011
Country by RankFacebook Users
1.  United States155,551,540
2.  Brazil53,052,520
3.  India51,202,500
4.  Indonesia43,976,340
5.  Mexico36,231,480
6.  Turkey30,771,500
7.  United Kingdom30,439,720
8.  Philippines28,547,240
9.  France24,197,840
10. Germany23,790,820

    There are more Filipino women Facebook subscribers at 52% compared to 48 % men.

Philippines Facebook Profile12/31/2011
Total Facebook users28,547,240
Facebook user rank8
Penetration of internet users96.12%
User Age Distribution 
18-24 years old39%
25-34 years old24%
16-17 years old11%
35-44 years old10%
13-15 years old8%
45-54 years old5%
55-64 years old2%
65 years old -up1%

    The largest demographic Filipino Facebook user groups are those ages 18 to 34 years old at 63% followed by teens, ages 13 to 17 years old at 19%. Only 8% of those ages 45 years and above are Facebook subscribers.

What is social media?

            Academic Professor of social media, Andreas Kaplan of the ESCP Europe Business School defines social media as a means of using web-based technologies to generate user content for social interaction and communication.

            Six categories of social media have been cited and these include collaborative projects like online database Wikipedia where netizens can post and pool knowledge and information on particular topics; user-generated content communities like YouTube, Delicious or Flickr where multimedia content like videos, pictures, slides, etc., can be uploaded and shared; social networking sites like Facebook or LinkedIn fanned by users who share interests or activities; individually maintained blogs and micro blogs like Word Press or Twitter that serve as online personal diaries or forum for regular commentaries; virtual game worlds like World of War craft, a multi-player online role-playing and virtual communities like the Second Life propelled by computer-based simulated environments and avatars created by users.

            Nowhere has any communication tool like social media become so powerful in previous generations and today where content is generated by users and where users have become so empowered to influence content and its outcome.  Baseless product reviews, erroneous information and advertising comments, malicious uploads about products, brands and companies can so easily destroy a nameless, no-recall product, brand or company.

            At any point in time, a product so ubiquitous can lose its fame and customers overnight. This is inevitable for a product with no proper, adequate and sustained historical brand investment and personality.

How best to combat social media ills

            Battling erroneous information, rumors and social media abuses on the Internet requires the following:

            One, invest in positive branding long before the social media debacle or attack happens.  A brand goes beyond a product name, logo or symbol but includes any and all associations that positively help to differentiate a product, service or person. Not all products with a name are considered brands even if they have long been in the market. True brands enjoy immense total and top of mind awareness, a following of customers almost like a cult, perception of good quality, positive associations and familiarity with all brand elements that include logo and color executions, advertising, jingles, selling or tag lines, etc.

            If a positive and good brand were a person, he would generally enjoy good moral character. There is far more burden of proof that social media abusers have to do to put a good brand down. Yet, it is most difficult to build and sustain a brand. This requires resolute vision, guts and courage, and investments in good, positive brand building efforts as opposed to short-term marketing push. Consumers are generally more forgiving and doubtful of social media rumors that surround brands they are most familiar with.

            Dominos Pizza, a brand with a 30-minute delivery claim to fame, succumbed to a social media nightmare in 2009 when two Dominos employees at a North Carolina franchise operation was shown tampering with a customers pizza and sandwich order. The first employee stuck up a cheese stick into his nose and subsequently placed the piece on the garlic cheese bread. He sneezed onto the pizza and boxed it up ready for delivery. The second employee took the video and commented, “In about five minutes, they will be sent out to delivery, where somebody will be eating these, yes, eating them”. That video, posted on YouTube, had subsequent postings on Facebook and Twitter and had gone viral with more than 500,000 views.  Patrick Doyle, Dominos president, soon came online and offline, apologetic and honest, but firm in his reassurance of quality control. Later, it was learned that the offending employees had previous prank offenses. Dominos Pizza had only its previous branding campaign and initiatives to thank for as their legions of loyal customers forgave and moved on.

            Two, build a clear-cut brand personality and differentiation. Not all brand advertising claim to have a personality. Most are one-time campaigns meant to capture the present moment. This is specially true for retail brands. When brands have a clear-cut persona, consumers, so do netizens, find it more logical to rationalize the brand’s actions.

Bayo, a local clothier was not so lucky with its What’s Your Mix? Campaigns when it was forced to withdrew and apologize for what was labeled as a racist campaign. The campaign used Filipino models with mixed foreign blood and cited “the mixing and matching of different nationalities with Filipino blood as almost a sure formula for someone beautiful and world class”.  The intent was analogous to mix and match clothing. So with the Belo Mens ad campaign executions, also labeled as racist,  that promoted its men’s skin care and whitening line with the executions “10% lighter, 100% mas sosyal “ and “10% lighter, 100% more numbers”. The Belo ads have since been withdrawn and founder Vicki Belo has issued an apology.

On the contrary, an optical brand, EO-Executive Optical, known for its expert eye care, survived the social media crisis when a small netizen group mislabeled one of its billboard ads called Cauliflower as racist. A much bigger group of netizens decried the wrongful interpretation of the ad and argued that the ad was simply a witty, humorous presentation of a dark-skinned Filipino male suitor with good eyesight and holding yellow roses winning over another fair-skinned Filipino suitor with poor eyesight clasping a cauliflower. “There was nothing racist over it, so says most netizens”.  But then, EO-Executive Optical has consistently been known for its witty brand character and humorously presenting snippets of true to life poor eyesight situations that ultimately affect a good quality of life at work, play and even relationships.

Three, brands heavily making investments in social media and digital marketing have identified digital and social media metrics. In many country markets today, there are social media and analytics companies that help brands determine the effectiveness of their social media campaign while forewarning them of possible social media crisis. These companies listen in to conversations and dialogue in all major social networks and public blogs and micro blogs and track the social direction of all the comments and opinions. Socialbakers is one social media and digital analytics company with brand clients in 75 countries. Another local company is Sencor, a knowledge process-outsourcing provider that is able to monitor social conversations and help marketers identify performance gaps of their brand as well as brand strengths based on customer opinions.

Social media and the digital environment are here and will long stay affecting the productive lives of many brands. Brand marketers and strategists must prepare for a truly challenging environment where a brand crisis can happen overnight. On the other hand, wise brand marketers can leverage on this new environment to make their brand even stronger.

The writer is Chief Brand Strategist of MKS Marketing Consulting and is the author of the best-selling branding book, Color Folders In The Mind: A Branding Story, available at National Bookstore and Powerbooks.