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Postcard from Thailand

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I just wrapped TripAdvisor’s Master Classes in Bangkok (at Banyan Tree) and Phuket (at the Moevenpick Spa and Resort Karon Beach).  It was really great to see our customers in both places – I still remember the first client visit I made in 2009 to Thailand – it was at the Moevenpick and I met with the General Manager, Hans Frutiger, and the Director of Sales and Marketing, Craig Fong.  At that time, social media was a seldom talked about topic in hospitality but Hans and Craig were kind enough to give Brand Karma a chance.  They are tied for being the first customer for our analytic tool (the contract for Novotel Clarke Quay in Singapore came in on the same day around Christmas 2008 – the best present we’ve ever gotten!).

Since then we’ve gotten more customers in Thailand – mostly through word-of-mouth in this small and tight-knit community.  Therefore, coming back to Thailand, especially to Bangkok and Phuket, always warms my heart, because of the support we’ve had here, and the great customers we’ve gathered over the last few years.

The Bangkok sessions were packed – I think there were in total over 400 people who attended both the morning and afternoon sessions.  It was interactive, fast-paced, and fun.  Even though I had heard Alvin give the TripAdvisor presentation 4 times in Indonesia, every time I had a new thought bubble and I’d Blackberry my team on the newfound insight.  Siew Hoon – being the energetic and gracious moderator, kept the pace moving and the audience engaged.  Particularly insightful in the Bangkok session was the panel discussion involving Arnaud Girodon (formerly GM of Indigo Pearl, now, GM of the soon-to-be-opened InterContinental in Koh Samui) and Eric Hallin (GM of Rembrandt Hotel in Bangkok).  Both are very forward thinking in their approach on digital and direct booking – and with results to prove it.

The Phuket sessions were also packed.  Both Scot Tune (GM of Paresa) and Michael Nurtbalian (E-Commerce Manager at Indigo Pearl) shared war stories about their forays into social media.  Scot had an incredible ROI case from his investment in TripAdvisor Business Listings, and Michael had an incredible ROI case from his investment in Facebook advertising from last Christmas.  All in all – great learnings.

If the presentations and the panel discussion fed my brain, something that happened in the last session in Phuket moved my heart.

After Alvin finished his 8th (and final) presentation for this series, the questions that came in about some of TripAdvisor’s policies were passionate – much more so than in any other Master Class.  There were a lot of concerns about the policy for fraudulent reviews.

When TripAdvisor explained that the process for detecting fraudulent reviews begins with an algorithm and is then sometimes supplemented with human editors, an attendee responded with, “I didn’t start my business on an algorithm.”

He went on to passionately explain that mistakes are costly because they impact a proprietor’s business in a direct and significant way.  From the back of the room, I saw a lot of people nodding their heads in agreement.

There I was, sitting in the ballroom of my first client, next to the GM who signed our first contract, and in a roomful of my customers.

We began what we had to offer with a set of algorithms; at the time, that’s all we had… but it’s people who have carried us to where we are today.

Thank you Hans, Craig, Simon (from Novotel Clarke Quay in Singapore) for signing a contract with an unknown entity when we first started.

And thank you, Thailand, for reminding me for whom we started Brand Karma for: people, not machines.


Postcard from Indonesia

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I had the pleasure of presenting at the inaugural Asia-Pacific TripAdvisor Master Classes in Jakarta and Bali with Alvin Ch’ng, Commercial Director APAC for TripAdvisor, and Siew-Hoon Yeoh, Producer of Web In Travel (WIT).  We did 2 classes per day per location, and along with local hoteliers like Susanna Yong from Shangri-La Jakarta and Kevin Girard from the Conrad Bali, managed to share a lot about what we were seeing and what some hoteliers were doing to get ready for the digital marketing wave.

When I arrived in Bali, I had a few hours to kill, so I decided to hop in a cab and go to Tanah Lot.  This is one of seven sea temples along the south-west coast line.  There’s another one within walking distanced called Pura Batu Balong which I also visited.  As we’ve been expanding rapidly this year, it had been a while since I took anytime out for myself at all, so the few hour break was a much needed “work snack.”

On the perch of one of the cliffs I watched waves come in from afar.  When I visit my resort clients, I’m so used to going to their beaches to see the waves coming at eye level, the new perspective at Tanah Lot from a great height above was both refreshing and revealing.

Waves begin their formation miles from shore.  As they move closer, they either gain momentum and become larger to form white cap curls that surfers love to sneak under for a ride or they fizzle out and go flat.  The rate at which the waves come in, whether they become a curl or not, is consistent, persistent, and fast.  Who says nature moves at a slow speed?  I used to be a lifeguard, but I can imagine how overwhelming (and scary) slow swimmers must feel when they get pounded by unrelenting waves.

And it was with this realization that I understood how brand managers must be feeling with all this new digital stuff coming at them.  New digital stuff pops up constantly; some end up becoming powerful waves (like Facebook), others fizzle out (like interactive TV).  Some surprise you because they break the old patterns (like touch device — remember the tablet PC or Apple’s Newton?), some are highly anticipated but end up failures (like MySpace, Google Buzz).  What tool do you pick when things are constantly changing, and you can get swallowed up at anytime and end up with sand up your nostrils?

The answer lies in who you are.  Just like it really doesn’t matter what swim trunks you wear or what surf board you have if you know how to swim and surf, brand managers who know how to market will ride the wave of meaningful waves and skip the ones that fizzle out.  Will they make mistakes?  Absolutely.  But on average, the good ones survive, just like good surfers get good waves most (but not all) of the time.  And like people learning how to surf, as brand managers get better at marketing, they’ll be able to ride larger waves, experience thrills, and earn bragging rights that no one else can.

An invisible hand has been guiding me, Mario, George, and the rest of the company in this direction already. This started after the Brand Karma party at WIT last year, which showed us that in addition to the Brand Karma tools, the company, as a group of people, had something else valuable to give.  The question we’ve been wrestling with has been how to communicate that, make it actionable, as well as make it scalable.  So we’ve been purposefully quiet since then, trying to organize ourselves to grow into this new shell after much soul searching.

We had planned to launch our new initiative starting in August, and Bali, being the last speaking engagement for me in July, serendipitously gave me a vivid metaphor of the challenges our customers face, and reaffirmed my belief that we’re moving in the right direction.

Thank you, Bali.

Is Social Media David or the Emperor (Part III)?

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[The following is the final part of this series.  It was co-written with David Ransom, who is one of our new contributing authors.  If you’re interested, here are Part I and Part II.]

The Build Up

To understand how a brand strengthens a customer relationship — a phase called “Build Up,” we can first examine how it works with humans.  Let’s say you have a collection of ideas that forms a first impression about a person.  These come from a jumble of sources and can be about anything.  But, now you’re interested in moving beyond the acquaintance stage.  You’ve decided to invest time in developing a relationship.  This signifies the beginning of the Build Up stage, where you’re ready to build a bridge and strengthen the connection.  In a romantic relationship, this can be wooing or courting.  You begin thinking and talking to this person more each day.  Then, piece by piece, guards come down, and more information is shared.  Text messages turn into late night conversations.  Time passes easily.

Not only do you get to know who someone actually is, but you also get to know who that person is to you.  If there is personal compatibility, then great.  Sharing the same sense of humor, views, or activities will bring people together.  Chemistry is one prerequisite for growing a relationship.  But it is how that person treats you, and how you treat them, that determine relationship success.

Communication is the cornerstone of relationship success.  Creating an atmosphere of trust, honesty, and openness all start with healthy communication.  Having fun together is another ingredient.  Fun provides a source of joy for each party and it’s not just for kids.  Rituals provide a sense of continuity and stability.  They are points of reinforcement.  Compromise is another factor.  People need to give up certain demands or desires to satisfy the needs of the other.  Reaching this point allows both parties to mutually enjoy the interaction and feel valued within the relationship.

Reciprocity, which is critical in developing human relations, manifests itself in all the above actions that people take to get closer.  It’s no different for brands and their customers.  And unlike traditional media, social media provides an scalable channel to engage with consumers in such a way that invites continuous reciprocity — which can lead to greater customer intimacy.

However, knowingly deceiving, lying, and cheating on someone is a sure way to get to the Deterioration and Termination stages.  You’re definitely not growing a relationship by lying to your spouse or stealing money from a friend, so why would it be any different in the business world?  Enron. WorldCom. Madoff. Tiger Woods.

In thinking about the development of interpersonal relationships, I looked into my own past and the failure of my most significant romantic relationship.  Infatuation and chemistry were bolstered with intimacy, trust, honesty and loyalty; it had all the hallmarks of a success.  How did I go from success to failure?  How does anyone?  It begins with what you don’t do.

Although most of us communicate, we don’t communicate problems within the relationship.  This fear of discomfort becomes malignant overtime.  Then, one day, you end up in screaming match, full-blown, red faced with a veiny forehead over whether the mailman comes at 4:30 or 5:30.  Let’s face it: you’re not really fighting about the mail, are you?  Emotional disconnection and lack of awareness of each other’s needs created poison.  Eventually, you hear “hate” somewhere, and the relationship spirals downward uncontrollably.

Making someone know that they are loved is just as important as loving that person.

Communication, acknowledgement, and appreciation are just as essential in brand-customer relationships.  In hospitality, customers are lost for six main reasons; 1) death, 2) they move, 3) they make a friend in a new business, 4) they defect to a competitor, 5) they are dissatisfied with the product, 6) they experienced an attitude of indifference from one or more employees. Guess which is the primary reason? #6, allotting for 68% of total customer departure.

Starbucks journey illustrates successful strategies in managing relationships; in particular, fostering communication, intimacy and trust with their customers.  This is something they learned in 2008 when straying from core values to focus on short-term profits caused them to lose the attributes that once made for a remarkable company, and consequently, profitability.  Schulz says,

“If you’re really honest with yourself, as I have tried to be with myself, along the way in building the company, there has been something we have lost.  And it’s no one’s fault and there’s no punishment or blame.  We are what we are—but the question is, What are we going to do about it and how are we going to fix it?… Its not good enough to go ‘back to the future,’ but there is a piece of that past we need; we have to find and bring the soul of our company back, find our voice.”

The lesson here is to cultivate intimacy with the people you want to be closer.  They need to trust that you are acting with their best interests in mind, even if it’s brewing a cup of coffee.  You can use social media to engage effectively by using it as at least as a communication channel.  The more you converse and do together, the closer you will be with your customers.

The Continuation

Partners in a healthy relationship improve each other as people.  Someone really smart once shared an insightful tip.  She said that we each have seven staples holding together your life.  These people help secure your place in the world defining parts and portions of where you’ve been, where you’ve come from, and where you are going.  They provide your sense of identity.  Maybe a staple is a neighborhood friend, a family member, a particular coach or teacher, a high school or college classmate, or a coworker.  These people and the memories you share with them constitute your life.  We derive strength from these relationships, celebrating the good times and finding comfort and security during the difficult.

A company should strive for this type of relationship with their customers — to become a staple.  During the 2008 financial crisis, Howard Schultz visited a Starbucks in downtown LA to inquire as to how, with the state of the economy, did they get people to keep coming back.  The store manager went to the source and pulled a regular customer into her office.  The man entered with a gun on his hip.  He was a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. Schultz recounts the conversation as follows, “I could just as easily go to a 7-Eleven,” the officer said matter-of-factly.  Then he shared a conversation that he and his wife had had at their kitchen table that past weekend as they reviewed their family’s budget, just as millions of other families had been doing of late.

“My wife asked whether I could give up my daily Starbucks.”  Standing there in the back room, Schulz recounted the officer’s reply.  “Let me tell you why I cannot give it up.  Because it’s not about a cup of coffee.  I have a tough job.  I see things on a daily basis that no one should see and experience.  But the one thing I can count on every single day is how the people in that store make me feel.”   Then he addressed me directly.  “I want to tell you about your employees.  They know my kids’ names.  They know where I go on vacation.  They write notes on my coffee cup.  I could be seventh in line and they start making my drink.”  The baristas knew he took his grande nonfat latte with two Splendas, extra hot with no foam.  He added that, as a police officer, he understood the importance of treating every person he came in contact with in his job with respect.  “You never know what’s going on in people’s lives when you serve them,” he paused.  “For all you know, it could be someone’s last day on earth.”  Coming from a detective who had seen his share of trauma, that was not a statement made in jest.  “This is my little escape,” he said he had finally told his wife.  “You just have to allow me that.”

And this is what a successful, fully developed brand-customer relationship looks like.  To the LAPD Detective, Starbucks was a positive part of his identity.  He could depend on the company to deliver an emotional experience that recharged him and alleviated the stresses of his day-to-day life.  Even in times of financial strain, this was one thing he wouldn’t sacrifice.

Whereas the LAPD Detective told Schulz this when asked, your loyal customers, evangelists, are telling everyone else in their circle how they feel about your brand everyday in social media and via their actions.  Why?  Because the brand has become a staple in their lives — the brand is a part of their self-identity.

Fostering this type of relationship provides monetary benefit.  The police officer’s story demonstrates the secured revenue from developing strong brand-customer relationships.  While he purchases a cup of coffee, he is buying the whole experience.  The relationship grew with each successive visit.  His interaction with the baristas added value through emotional engagement.  He trusted in Starbucks and in his store.  And each day, he returned to enjoy these connections.

When people make purchase decisions, they face a tradeoff between products.  During times of financial struggle, they must make sacrifices.  Through developing strong connections overtime, a loyal customer will sacrifice other products and allocate more resources to your brand.  What did this mean for Starbuck’s bottom line?  He’s not at 7-Eleven.  He’s drinking that four-dollar latte.


So is social media overhyped or undervalued?  No one can make provide a definitive yes or no answer without attaching a few exceptions.  Overvalued?  Certainly… in some situations.  Spamming customers with tweets will detract from the relationship.

However, something like a weekly blog can become a ritual.  The online forums offer digital spaces for relationships to develop.  They provide spaces to have fun, such as generating brand relevant games for you customer.  The conversation has simply moved to another space, but the same strategies still apply.  Create trust and mutual respect.  Provide open and honest feedback that helps both parties move forward in the relationship.  When a brand falters, they have the opportunity to reach their customer base and tackle issues head on.

But does it yield ROI?  Entertain this thought.  You are an owner of a hotel and you have a current guest.  The guest loves your hotel, adores it.  He is sitting beside your pool and ordering sangria after sangria.  As the owner, you are happy with this customer, especially from a financial standpoint.  Not only has him paid three nights for a suite, but also, he is currently spending on property.  What if he can take a picture and post ”PERFECT SANGRIA!”  He’s generating marketing value on a number of levels, consumer review, product buzz, and valuable feedback for strategic decisions.  And what if this actually appears on a site that you own?  You can eliminate the ‘clicking out’ to check out another intermediary that has reviews by having credible, real-time customer feedback on your own site.

The more traffic you retain, the more business you capture directly… and the less commission you have to pay.  This is one example of how social media can improve your ROI.  And relates back to the message in Part I of this series — the business you don’t lose is at least as important as the new business you gain.

However, the greater value is the dialogue with customers.  The heart of social media is conversation.  Therefore, customers feel more involved.  In turn, companies can demonstrate a greater level of concern through adopting recommendations.  This satisfies customer demand and makes them feel valued and appreciated instead of apathetic.  Also, customers have access to upper level decision makers beyond in store personal.  Therefore, emotional engagement transcends in store experience and involves the organization as a whole.  Fostering emotional involvement with greater depth generated financial return for Starbucks.  Likewise, using social media to strengthen attachment and develop relationships can assist a brand in becoming a staple in a customer’s life.

Traditional media can not do that because it has no reciprocity dimension.  This is why social media is so powerful — it extends your guest experience and allows you to engage in a meaningful 2-way relationship.  Rather than splattering ads everywhere to hopefully catch the right people’s attention, you can go about creating value for your target customers, and be loved and recommended for it.

Social media is David.  It’s a new way to win customers by engaging with them in a personalized manner that connects the soul of your brand with their hearts and minds.

And you can bet that if the Emperor weren’t wearing cloths, with social media, at least he would find out.

Written by Morris

June 12, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Is Social Media David or the Emperor (Part II)?

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The following is a continuation of a post that discussed whether social media is the Emperor without clothes or David in David v. Goliath.  This post focuses on brand engagement in social channels.

One of the questions I often get asked is, “How can I use social networks like Facebook and Twitter for my brand?”

And while they teach us in school not to answer a question with a question, I inevitably always do.

“What are you trying to accomplish?” is my usual reply.

Before you engage in social anything, you should have a good answer to this question.  Are you trying to increase brand awareness?  Extend your brand experience online? Attract influencers? Create an alternative communication channel? Obtain lifestyle information to incorporate into your CRM? Make a few sales?  None of the above, some of the above, or…  all of the above?

What, exactly, does success look like?  This is step 1 and the one question that you must answer.

There is no simple answer to the question, “How can I use social networks for my brand?” because a good answer involves your overall brand strategy.  Without proper planning, throwing up a fan page or a micro-blog, in any language, is a one-way road to zero in terms of impact. Facebook, Kaixin001, RenRen, Twitter, Weibo, YouTube, YouKu, etc. — all of the popular social services that have millions of users — are littered with failed attempts by brands trying to authentically join consumer conversations without a clear plan as to how.  Social networks, and the user-generated content each network’s members produce, are not cubs but lions of brand communications.  This is a serious medium, and one that should not be handed over to a junior intern unless you want to deal with the consequences (see Marc Jacobs’ recent situation for what could happen).

Facebook is Like Big Bang

Digital social engagement is new human behavior, and not everyone likes it.  Also, we’re adapting to the variables of this medium at the same time the medium is being formed and changing.  In a way, Facebook is really like the Big Bang — and its resulting universe is still volatile and changing.  However, like the laws of physics that govern our offline universe, it is the rules of human relationships that provide valuable insights on how brands can engage within the online (or social) universe.

To have a better chance at engaging successfully, I recommend understanding the 5 development stages in interpersonal relationships.  According to Wikipedia, these are:

  1. Acquaintance – Becoming acquainted depends on previous relationships, physical proximity, first impressions, and a variety of other factors.  If two people begin to like each other, continued interactions may lead to the next stage, but acquaintance can continue indefinitely.
  2. Buildup – During this stage, people begin to trust and care about each other.  The need for intimacy, compatibility and such filtering agents as common background and goals will influence whether or not interaction continues.
  3. Continuation – This stage follows a mutual commitment to a long-term friendship, romantic relationship, or marriage. It is generally a long, relative stable period.  Nevertheless, continued growth and development will occur during this time.  Mutual trust is important for sustaining the relationship.
  4. Deterioration – Not all relationships deteriorate, but those that do tend to show signs of trouble.  Boredom, resentment, and dissatisfaction may occur, and individuals may communicate less and avoid self-disclosure.  Loss of trust and betrayals may take place as the downward spiral continues, eventually ending the relationship.  (Alternately, the participants may find some way to resolve the problems and reestablish trust.)
  5. Termination – The final stage marks the end of the relationship, either by death in the case of a healthy relationship, or by separation.

While the stages in this model were first developed to describe adult, romantic relationships, then later applied to other relationships, sociologists have found applicability of this model to consumer-brand relationships.  Social networks have accelerated the understanding of this model because the evidences of these relationships can more or less be easily seen… and over many many relationships, which, by the way, is another reason why understanding social media about your brand is critical.  Not doing so is tantamount to not ever listening to the compliments or complaints of your friend/spouse/co-worker/parent/child/teacher/etc.

Back to engagement: understanding stages 1-3 is critical for every brand manager in order to avoid stages 4-5.  Note that “selling as a hidden agenda” is a quick way to get to stage 4 — either because the other party feels bored by the constant hawking or betrayed from an abuse of trust.

So what are the social network manifestations of stages 1-3?

In the Acquaintance stage — it’s important to establish a positive first impression.  So — you should think, where will people get their first impression, and how positive will that impression be?  Here, you’ve got a paradigm shift.  Whereas in most of the 20th century the ‘where’ and ‘how positive’ first impressions could be largely controlled by a (very good) advertising agency and a (very good) PR agency — that’s no longer the case.  Nowadays, in addition to the controllable sources, the first impression people have of your brand can, and most likely will, come from 1) snippets in organic Google search results (from sites that have user reviews like TripAdvisor) or 2) fan likes/posts/comments on walls.  If you want the maximum prospects, pay attention to the non-traditional sources and make sure you’re making a good impression.

A slight aside — it is completely possible that you have the best brand but no one knows about it.  So one way in which you could gain more acquaintance is through advertising.  In this way — any type of online advertising will do.  Banner, PPC, SEM, social advertising, etc.  Each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses.  For social advertising — if the goal is to gain more acquaintances — then you should make sure you clearly identify whom you want to be acquainted with.  Ideally, the whom should look pretty close to the profile of your ideal customers — i.e. the ones that are going to be most satisfied with your service AND also allow you to declare success if you get the chance to have a relationship with them.  This means that it’s just as important for you to define whom you won’t target (i.e. the type of friends that would raise eyebrows if you brought them home to meet your family).

In the Build Up stage — the trust and caring begins for both parties in the relationship.  For brand managers, it’s the make or break stage.

[In Part III, the final part of this series, we’ll look into how brands can make Build Up a successful stage for them, leading to Continuation, and what that means to the bottom line.]

Is Social Media David or the Emperor?

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Recently there have been articles and things said at conferences about social media that question its use in travel.  I think this is a healthy debate and I’m glad that there are skeptics because they keep things honest.  So is social media the emperor with new clothes or is it David in David v. Goliath, where Goliath is the traditional way of doing things?

The main reason I hear from skeptics as to why social media is the emperor with no clothes is because while it’s the hot topic nowadays, it has offered almost nothing in the way of hardcore ROI that many people in the digital space are used to.  And, as a communications channel to engage fans and customers, that road only has a few bright lights.  So it’s tempting to leave social media as a playground for the twentysomethings.  After all, by spending $X dollars on SEM one can consistent get Y bookings, so why not stick with something that’s proven?

Those that are in the David camp thinks that social media is the next big thing — the media to change the way brands connect with consumers; it’s at least an evolution, if not a revolution from the web connections of the 2000s.  Many see the potential in social media’s distribution power, particularly because they feel their own direct bookings have been impacted by positive social media even if the positive social media isn’t always directly linked to their booking engine.  Most often, they’ll cite movements in their TripAdvisor rankings as having a discernible impact on bookings.  They get to this conclusion by talking to their actual guests and asking them where they found out about their brand.  Though I’ve yet to seen a specific model that says (N move upward in Ranking on Tripadvisor) = (+X bookings), hoteliers generally believe there is a connection, however tenuous, between those 2 variables.  The more daring ones then venture out to facilitate the creation of more positive social media by establishing a presence in social networks in the forms of fan pages and tweet accounts, sometimes without their corp management company’s consent… to leverage social media as a resource to possible convert in the future.

What is Social Media ROI?

To figure out whether social media has any validity or not in the way of ROI — let me start by saying that it’s hard to figure out what business you’re actually losing, which makes it hard to come up with the strongest answer.  Did a customer not book because they didn’t discover you, because they didn’t like the review they read about you, because your competitor offered a cheaper price, a combination of all of the above, or some other unknown factor?  Who knows, but I’d say — most of the other factors have been around for a while — and most businesses have figured out a way to deal with the other factors (e.g. awareness, competitive pricing).  However, people reading public reviews about you written by strangers — now that’s a new thing.  Hence it is worth your investment just to see whether bad reviews relative to your comp set is having an impact on your business.  Therefore, the first and most basic rule of social media ROI is: don’t lose business due to bad reviews… put your best foot forward to make sure you have a good showing.  It won’t hurt that whatever improvements you make in response to bad reviews will also make future customers happier for the most part.

Early in Brand Karma’s journey in 2008, we met with someone from the PR team of a famous historic hotel that is well-known.  The hotel already had a lot of reviews, and many were negative for a hotel of this stature — most were complaints of how the service wasn’t worth the history or the high rates.  When I pointed this out, the woman we met nodded, then told me the hotel was really not for people who would write reviews or research reviews online.  Their clienteles were ‘CEOS and Heads of States’ and they don’t necessarily value or want the business of people who would write reviews online.  You can imagine how shocked I was.  In the economic downturn, the hotel was sold.  Of course we never know what exactly happened, but I’ve got to imagine that the previous owner wasn’t too happy with the financial performance.

Was the PR team wrong? No, not necessarily.  It’s within every business’ right to have a target customer base.  But the thinking was incomplete in assuming that CEOs and Heads of States don’t use social media — even then.  Barack Obama, a Head of State, successfully used social media and micro-donations to raise a war chest that helped him become the President of the United States in that same year.  On the other hand, Heads of States who didn’t pay attention to social media until it was too late are failing recently in the Middle East.  As far as CEOs are concerned — I’ve not met one CEO in the last 12 months who isn’t curious about how to make social media work for his/her company.

But perhaps because it’s difficult to measure the business you unintentionally lose, it’s hard to answer the social media ROI question with the strongest numerical answer.  Nonetheless, the most basic thing you can do with social media is to protect your business.  I think it would be foolish for any brand that has a lot of user-generated reviews and posts to ignore what’s being said.  It’s just common sense to pay attention to how your brand is being perceived.  As for brands that don’t have enough user-generated reviews?  You want people to talk about your brand, so you’ve got to figure out how to get your brand into the conversation in a relevant manner.  That’s where using social media as an ‘engagement channel’ part can come into play.

[In Part II of this post, I will discuss more about the effectiveness of social media as an engagement channel]

Written by Morris

March 29, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Look to the Movies for Inspirations

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There’s an exciting new field that’s opened up called neurocinematics with groundbreaking work done out of Princeton and Cornell that studies how the brain responds to movies.

There have been some interesting findings that are already guiding filmmakers and commercial directors to make clips that are more engaging. For example, films that have grossed highly tend to have shots with length that mirrors our own natural attention span — this is called the pink noise — perhaps this is the first grammatical structure for describing videos?

You can read more about the study, released March of this year.

I’m surprised the concept of “video grammar” is so hotly contested. Even though science may not have moved far along enough to fully articulate how our brains processes moving images in the same way that it understands how our brains process textual stories, it’s quickly catching up.

Princeton did a fascinating study watching the brain reacts via fMRI to a trailer — you can see it here.

What they learned is setting the foundation for a greater understanding of what engages the human mind audio-visually, and that could lay the foundation for an eventual handbook on how to create the best trailers, commercials, or even YouTube videos, in the same way that there are books today like “Dummie’s Guide to Doing a Start-Up” (which I wished I had gotten when I started Circos Brand Karma!)

In any case, I think the debate illustrates another fundamental point that came up during WIT: we should look outside the travel industry for inspirations on what’s to come.

This doesn’t mean that no innovations or creativity will come out of the travel industry, but there’s a lot of great stuff happening outside of the travel industry that our customers are experiencing.

We must wear their shoes to understand, not ours. The same person deciding where to go for his vacation saw “Inception” on the way home, and probably remembers the latest Harry Potter trailer. When he looks at your hotel video – do you think he’s comparing against other hotel videos.– or what last made an impression on his mind?

There’s no denying that great movies are works of art — but every art has a language to describe itself. I think we’re on the cusp of discovering how movies move us… and with that will come a language that has a set of concepts and guidelines to help future filmmakers, amateurs and professionals, make more engaging movies.

(this post was originally written as a feature post for Web In Travel)

Liar Liar Pants (Eventually) On Fire

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Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an in-depth article about the doping controversy surrounding Lance Armstrong.  In the article, Armstrong’s former teammate, Floyd Landis, described the doping that was done in the 2004 Tour de France (which Armstrong won) as being “…part of the sport and, if he joined a top team, would be part of his job.”  Landis subsequently won the Tour in 2006 but was stripped of his win when he failed the doping test after the race.

In response, Armstrong, as he has always done in the past, denied the allegations and instead focused on supporting his cancer foundation, Livestrong.

Today’s Wall Street Journal article is full of false accusations and more of the same old news from Floyd Landis, a person with zero credibility and an established pattern of recanting tomorrow what he swears to today… For years, sensational stories based on the allegations of ax-grinders — have surfaced on the eve of the Tour for publicity reasons, and this article is simply no different.  Lastly, I have too much work to do during this, my final Tour, and then after my retirement in my continued fight against cancer, to add any attention to this predictable pre-Tour sensationalism.

Steven Levitt, author of one of my favorite books, Freakonomics, had this interesting observation on his blog in The New York Times:

I’ve never studied lying versus truth-telling academically, but I have thought a lot about creativity.  And one thing that I have come to believe is that people – virtually all people, including me – are really bad at coming up with new ideas and insights.

That is why I find the Floyd Landis allegations so compelling.  He describes in great specificity and detail scenarios involving refrigerators hidden in closets, and the precise temperature at which the blood stored in those refrigerators had to be kept; and faked bus breakdowns during which Lance received blood transfusions while lying on the floor of the bus, etc.  To make up stories of this kind, with that sort of detail, strikes me as a difficult task.

If indeed the stories Landis tells are not true, my guess would be that these incidents actually happened, just with a different set of players, and then Landis switched the names.

Levitt has a point: sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, however unbelievable it might be.

In the social media world, the equivalent of doping is fraudulent engagement.  “Engagement” includes reviews, fans, posts, likes, views, etc.; basically any activity that elevates a brand’s rank unnaturally.  Recently, someone told me that you can hire villages in China to enhance a brand’s reputation and attack a brand’s competitors.  These activities then lead to fierce exchanges on Chinese BBSs that cause more confusion for consumers.

I don’t know if fraudulent engagement in travel is as systemic as Landis alleges for cycling, but I do know that many of my friends and colleagues think that it is — particularly those whose businesses have been impacted by hacked social media rankings.  While cycling has a governing body that conducts random tests for doping, there is no governing body in travel to evaluate the truthfulness of user generated content.  This responsibility falls largely on the social media site operators and their users.  Truthful or not, whatever is posted becomes a part of the brand image mosaic, which is further consumed by prospects and the general internet population.

However unethical, these opportunities exist, and travel executives often ask me how to combat such practices. The most basic thing is to not engage fraudulently; two wrongs don’t make a right.  A brand must have a corporate policy that prohibits employees from artificially enhancing the brand’s reputation or harming that of a brand’s competitors, even if you know competitors are doing it. Eventually, the Floyd Landises of the world get found out, and the fallout is most certainly not worth the possible short-term gains.

In addition, brand owners should have a plan that develops an army of customer evangelists who are passionate about their brand and who will defend the brand if it comes under attack.  Apple has been good at achieving this in the past.  Apple’s customer evangelists incorporate Apple products into their identity, and are constantly selling Apple products to their friends, family, and colleagues without receiving any commission from Apple.  They will also defend Apple when people attack their products – both online and offline.  As a result, Apple has been virtually bulletproof against attacks against its products.  Its market value has increased over 1000% in the last 10 years, surpassing Microsoft as the largest publicly traded technology company in May.

However, recently some of Apple’s evangelists have turned against Apple, over what they consider to be deceptive explanations about iPhone 4’s reception bars and Steve Jobs’ response to a customer complaint.  Now there’s a class-action lawsuit filed against Apple in the United States, where it sold over 1.7M units in the first 3 days.

Why?  Because the ex-evangelists felt Apple broke their trust.  And once trust is broken, the thin line between love and hate disappears.

So while having customer evangelists is important, what’s even more important is delivering on your brand promise consistently and truthfully.  If you do, customers will follow, and they, along with you, will breathe continuous life into the evangelization of your brand.

Whether Lance Armstrong will be exonerated or go the way of many famous athletes/role models/celebrities/politicians/brands and fall from grace remains to be seen.  But one thing is for certain though: in this era of hyper transparency, brand integrity must never be compromised.

(this post was original written as a feature post for Web In Travel)