Archive for April, 2010

A company’s Facebook page is its flagship store

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

If your company has a Facebook page, be advised that your Facebook page is your No. 1 flagship store. It is your brand completely laid open to the world, with at least 300 million Facebook members invited to share your space with their personal appreciations, advice, comments and perspectives. It isn’t a physical space, of course, like a usual retail flagship. It’s a flagship of your brand character, brand values and brand behavior, in an ongoing dialogue with all your Facebook “fans.”

On Facebook, a brand transacts its future

No money changes hands on a brand’s Facebook page, but what does transact is a brand-driven social and moral exchange that’s every bit as important. In effect, on Facebook every brand transacts its future. Brands are judged on Facebook across social, moral and political dimensions that may well determine a brand’s future. What is the brand’s agenda? Where is it leading the world? How is it a force for good? What are its positions on vital issues A, B and C? Does the brand listen? Does it speak with a human voice, or is it a PR bullhorn? Prepare your Facebook flagship to answer these questions. They will be asked.

Over time, a brand’s Facebook page can reveal a brand’s blind spots, program shortfalls and inefficiencies. Brand ready to listen—and to act—can translate this experience into strategic opportunities.

There are no pedestals on Facebook

There are no pedestals on Facebook. Brands are tenants on a page, co-equals with everyone else. On Facebook the brand is brought down to earth, shorn of its corporate cloak,  poked and prodded, queried, challenged, and perhaps told to shape up here and there—just like any new member of the crew. This process is called brand engagement. It’s a two-way street. Brands can’t script it. They learn from it. And what they learn can be invaluable.

It’s your flagship, but many of the flags aren’t yours

What’s unique about your flagship presence on Facebook is that many of the flags won’t be yours. They’ll belong to your “fans,”  in the shape of the eye-catching profile images that grace their comments. In very rare cases your Facebook page may be visited by individuals or pressure groups with their own causes, as the recent Nestle brand crisis so vividly demonstrated. Flying their own flags, these “fans” may try to turn your own identity against you, possibly using variations of your symbols and trademarks for their own campaigns.

Strong brands can take steps to preclude such eventualities, and can handle unexpected events  if they do occur. On the other hand, a weak or backward-facing brand may be overwhelmed by aggressive fan behavior on what it considers its proprietary Facebook turf. Worse, it may find itself in a nightmare of its own making if it reacts by dictating rules of behavior to the “fans” who share its page.

Flagship brand, Facebook culture

In the brick and mortar world a company will use its retail flagships to help build a unique brand culture, every square inch designed to amplify the brand experience.  On Facebook, a brand’s flagship presence must be built within the neutral Facebook frame, and within the Facebook culture. This is a culture that sees itself as open, egalitarian, informal, tolerant, supportive and respectful. That’s the culture your brand must embrace. Brands that come across as patronizing, arrogant, corporatist or legalistic invite a serious culture clash, which the brand can’t win.

A brand’s Facebook page is social property, not private property.

A brand’s Facebook page is social property, not private property. It can’t be structured as a walled garden where the brand promotes itself from behind the parapets. The purpose of the brand is not to privatize but to socialize, by leading its customers (and Facebook “fans”) to better ways of being and doing (that can also build the business). Brands are their outcomes. The more social the outcome, the stronger the brand. You fly your flags with verve and grace and wit and style and compassion. If your flags fly true, your Facebook fans will follow.


Strange doings with the Sony VAIO brand

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Something strange appears to be happening with the upscale Sony VAIO laptop brand, if the recent report in PC Pro is correct, Sony is apparently planning to split the VAIO  brand into two parts, a top-tier “division one” and a lesser “division two.” The “division one” VAIO brand will feature the latest and greatest Sony technology and design, and will be manufactured by Sony in traditional VAIO execution. The new “division two” VAIO’s will feature less advanced/older technologies and will be designed and built by others, although they will still bear the traditional VAIO brand.

Which “division” is the real VAIO?

A few brand strategy questions beg to be answered. In Sony’s new scheme of things, which “division” is the real (authentic) VAIO brand? Is it the all-Sony top-tier “division one,” or the sub-tier “division two” version to be outsourced? Which one delivers the authentic VAIO experience that distinguishes Sony in the PC marketplace? If both are equally “VAIO,” why do we need two divisions? And why is one part of the VAIO brand to be farmed out? That sure sounds like a line of products with less “Sony” and less “VAIO” in it.

An invitation to brand dilution

If you split your premium brand into two tiers with the lower tier designed and manufactured by third parties, yet still bearing the high-prestige name, you’re on a path that invites brand dilution. A brand of specific, known qualities is being stretched to cover a line of lower qualities. Less “real brand” reaches the customer, and the brand risks becoming a brand in name only. A classic example is the widely-mocked Ford Mustang II, which was really a cheaper/weaker Ford Pinto re-badged with the famed Mustang muscle-car brand to help sales.

From Jalopnik on the Mustang II dilution:

When a company does all that work to build a brand you’d think they’d be careful about letting it go to crap for a couple of extra bucks. But companies love extra bucks and, when nothing else is going for them, they can always leverage awareness.

Can a brand we watered down by such a marketing ploy? It would seem so.

The VAIO brand reduced to a VAIO “taste” and “style”

You might insist, as Sony does in the PC Pro account, that the “division two” VAIO’s will have a “taste of VAIO, the style of VAIO,” but this doesn’t sound very VAIO. From a unique brand essence we’ve descended to a kind of brand flavor. It’s as if the VAIO brand could be reduced to a mist and sprayed on these lesser VAIO’s as they fly out someone else’s door. This would serve to depreciate the traditional VAIO brand, and brand experience. Would anyone be fooled by such marketing hocus pocus? Traditional VAIO customers—those most loyal to the high quality, high performance VAIO brand—would certainly feel that their brand is being diminished.

Preserving brand integrity

As I see it, what’s at risk here is the VAIO brand integrity. Brands are brands because they’re the irreducible real deal, not an add-on “taste” or “style”. They raise customers to new levels through their very integrity, values and purpose. Brands draw the line on compromise. This planned move by Sony (if true) reduces the VAIO brand to marketing make believe. That can’t be what Sony really wants.

(I do note, however, that the tagline of the Sony brand is: “make. believe.”)