Northstar look closely at a number of markets to ensure their reports are timely and accurate. Whilst 60% of Northstar UK’s quantitative and qualitative research projects are international, multi-market studies, the company prides itself on its ability to design, run and deliver insight to the highest standards everywhere from Surbiton to Shenzen.
This is achieved using a team of dedicated and passionate researchers from varied educational backgrounds – linguistics, statistics, marketing, sociology, business management, politics, psychology – which together allows Northstar to formulate richly diverse methodologies.
Chris’ specialities include using advanced analytical techniques to uncover hidden insights and distilling complex datasets into engaging stories. Particularly experienced in the Automotive, Technology and FMCG sectors he focuses on large international ad-hoc and continuous studies.
Q How has branding changed since the arrival of social media?
A Branding has changed since we became a ‘social society’. Social media means your branding strategy now has more mediums to communicate and express your brand values through. Arguably, we are already at the stage where there is an expectation from your customers to have a social media presence – something brand strategy barely considered five years ago.
The changes brought by social media are also reflected in the dynamics of brand strategy – not just the opportunity and expectations. Traditional brand strategy is centred on passing your brand’s messages to consumers. In the social era, the conversation is two-way – with consumers being able to communicate back to your brand. Brand strategy has therefore, turned from ‘commercial yelling’ to ‘commercial conversation’.
Q How should businesses change their brands to make the most of the opportunities that social media now offers?
A Despite the social media induced changing of brand strategy dynamics, corporations should fear not as this does not mean a brand overhaul. The arrival of social media gives you the chance to enhance your brand. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn et al, give your brand increased dynamism to communicate your identity, thought leadership and product offerings – this is the first time for some corporations that they have really been able to communicate such messages in such a large space.
That said, in order to enhance your brand, you may need to reconsider how it is managed in terms of staffing social media campaigns, producing thought content and devising metrics for social media success – all facets of brand management which didn’t need to be considered in the pre-social media era.
Q How can businesses decide which of the social networks is a good fit with their brands?
A The social media ‘boom’ has meant that there are many channels open to you when you enter the social sphere. However, three key points should drive your decision regarding which channels to utilise:
- Relevance: Before selecting a social media network, you need to ask yourself: ‘Is the audience in this network relevant to me?’ and ‘Is communicating to this audience going to boost my brand profile among those who matter?’ If the answer to either of these is ‘no’, reconsider that particular channel. Social media communication may be cheap in terms of direct costs, but it still requires human resources and no business should advocate investing resources into irrelevant channels.
- Maintenance: Once you have decided which social media channels are relevant, you need to ask: ‘Can I maintain the content on them?’ Social media mediums, which lack recent content harm your brand. Therefore, only use those, which you can commit to updating.
- Integration: Having selected your channels you need to ask: ‘How can these work together?’ You need to identify which content can be used on numerous channels and how, for example, your Twitter following can be shared with your LinkedIn connections. This will make maintaining your channels more efficient and help generate the maximum following for your brand.
Q What pitfalls from a branding perspective should business owners watch out for when using social networks?
A Social media allows your brand to open up new avenues of communication. However, this also creates some branding complexities for corporations, namely ensuring consistent messaging of brand identity and offerings – across all social media channels and vs. traditional brand communications. Failure to keep your social media branding consistent in these ways will likely result in diminished quality and reliability perceptions. After all, if your brand cannot be sure who they are, how can consumers be sure you will deliver on your promise to them?
Q How can businesses lever their brands across the social networks to generate more engagement with their customers?
A At the simplest level you should think about giving consumers the chance to communicate with you. Twitter is great for quick questions and answers, offering an appealing alternative to sitting on hold on a phone line getting frustrated. Plus, your answers are there for all to see and can solve other people’s questions without needing your involvement next time. Be warned though, consumers will expect a response within 24 hours, ideally less.
The pinnacle of social media engagement is having your own online community. A large North American retailer of entertainment and informational media products achieved 19% incremental spend amongst members of its online community following launch.
If you’re not ready to make that investment yet, a Facebook page is a good start. You’ll learn a lot of valuable lessons that’ll enable you to hit the ground running if you decide to invest more heavily in a customised product.
Whichever channels you use, remember that everybody likes to feel listened to and involved – this is the best way to increase engagement with consumers.
Q Do consumers now interact with brands differently because of social networking?
A Social networking has undoubtedly changed consumer-brand interactions irrevocably. If we think back even ten years the only channels to interact with most brands were the free phone numbers on the side of products or freepost addresses. The very idea of interacting with a brand is a relatively new one for consumers.
The biggest change is that most consumer-brand interaction is visible to others. Facebook posts, tweets, etc. are visible to anyone else following your brand so it is more important than ever to get it right. The frequency with which consumers can interact with your brand has also increased. The time pressure of running a corporation doesn’t make it easy to keep up with this communication, but ask yourself: ‘Would you rather have no communication with consumers?’
The final big change is that social conversations happen amongst groups of people – not your brand and individuals. Consequently, problems can quickly escalate if not dealt with quickly as your customers can form groups with a unified complaint. Equally, the effort you put into involving and keeping in touch with consumers will reach multiple consumers simultaneously.
Q How do you define a ‘social brand’ today?
A We define social brands as those who select the right channels and then use them effectively. It’s all too easy to sign up to a channel such as Pinterest because you heard it’s the next big thing only to find that it doesn’t allow for the sort of interaction you’d like. Remember the three key points discussed earlier: Relevance, Maintenance and Integration.
The next stage is to use it effectively – focus on frequency and content. Of course you shouldn’t bombard people with content as you’ll monopolise space on their pages and they’ll stop following you. Equally, if you only send a message or share content every three months you’re wasting an opportunity.
Content is king when it comes to social media; remember, this is a conversation, not an opportunity for you to talk without listening. If you want to show new products or ideas you should ask what people think and listen to their feedback. Little builds engagement like feeling that your ideas helped create something. The Christopher Ward watch brand is a great example of this, interacting with their forum, giving sneak previews of advance designs and even making a limited edition watch to forum members’ specification once a year.
A Social media offers the promise of a more democratic future for brands. In theory even small brands will be able to compete without multimillion-pound advertising budgets. Social media offers the opportunity for new brands to reach large audiences quickly and cheaply.
That said, so far that potential hasn’t been realised by many. It’s been the big brands that have spent the time and resources required to experiment and optimise their social media offerings. Consumers are always on the lookout for something new, but getting heard in a crowded space takes time and effort.
We will undoubtedly see the emergence of new social media channels as time progresses. Hopefully, as more channels emerge, brands will start to pick and choose their outlets more selectively. Up until now there has been a temptation to try and cover everything, even if this risks spreading resources and presence too thin.