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This is the communal blog of Karin Botta and Uno de Waal, business unit director and senior social strategist at trigger/isobar (www.isobar.co.za), who are both attending South by South West (SxSW) 2012, the annual film, music and interactive festival held in March in Austin, Texas. Follow @triggerisobar and Twitter List @Bizcommunity/sxswsa2012 for the duration of the festival.
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[SxSW 2012] Part V: Brands as APIs

13 Mar 2012 10:09:00
Uno de Waal: SxSW Interactive is primarily a conference attended by the tech-set: an audience of people who work in and love technology. And this is a good thing - the digital industry is an open field that is being shaped by new technology on a day-to-day basis. However, SXSW also sees a lot of people attending from the non-technical side of this world, such as branding, strategy and marketing.

Often the two overlap, and often we need different metaphors from different industries to explain things. The most interesting of these metaphors came from the brands as APIs, content publisher discussions and the way we measure ROI in social media talks.

In the first panel of discussions (social role playing: brands as publishers), people seem to confuse brands as publishers with being focused on UGC. This is still a valid point, but often devolves into a discussion where all that we’re looking to do is create UGC campaigns without focusing on production of great content.

Brands have always been publishers

Brands have always been publishers (eg in South Africa, the biggest magazine publisher is Jet Club magazine); what we are experiencing now is that we have more tools to use and more platforms to publish on.

For example, you find Red Bull on numerous different platforms: a magazine, website, Twitter feeds and also an iPad app. The different media each have their own way of communicating the same Red Bull voice and the same central content idea. The main difference between publishers of old (print publications), and publishers of new (digital publications) is the frequency of updates and the opening of a two-way communication stream.

It’s this second thing that brands are really struggling with.

The brands as API talk was a very interesting extension of this theme. The premise is that brands need to be open for consumers to play with.

Opens the field up

The basic premise of an open API (application programming interface) is that users can take the building blocks of an application or utility (eg Facebook) and then use those in ways that the application designers would never ever imagine. This opens the field up for very interesting consumer-led collaborations and initiatives.

Examples of this would be taking a brand such as Nike and giving users license to use the “brand primitives”: allowing them to create their own stories of the brand, asking them what it means to be #AlwaysOn or to #MakeItCount. The narratives become led by the consumers.

This is a scary thing for most brands as they want to keep control of the brand image; however, nearly every talk we see it’s clear that this is no longer possible.

Naturally, no conversation around branding, UGC and content would be complete without a discussion around the ROI of these social initiatives. Probably the most interesting panel was the what’s so [bleeping] hard about social ROI. This had a packed audience and they had to expand it to another venue as well.

Hope of getting some clear definition

I believe most people attended this talk with the hope of getting some clear definition of what they should be measuring in social media - 90% of the audience indicated that they were managing brand pages, but only about 10 % of them then indicated that they had some type of metric or business objective in place (apart from XX amount of fans on Facebook).

A general consensus of the panel was that we can’t just set metrics for the sake of metrics - finding something and making that count doesn’t mean anything.

Another interesting concept was that social ROI doesn’t end the day that you have increased your follower count - eg you might have an acquisition campaign at the start of January, but you will see great return on that investment in August when you launch your second campaign. And again in March the following year, when you launch the next, etc etc.

One of the panelists, Liz Strauss, made a great point in saying that asking for the ROI on social is a bit like asking for the ROI on the telephone call in the customer call centre. It just doesn’t make sense.

Social should support business objectives

This stemmed from a discussion on the cross-disciplinary nature of social - it’s used in so many different contexts, from direct marketing, sales and right through to customer support. Each of these business pillars has different objectives, and social should support these objectives, not blindly chase a “fancount”.

It’s our last day at SxSW today, Tuesday 13 March 2012, and we’ll be heading back to SA. So far it’s been a fascinating journey to discover the way that America thinks and how the tech community here operates - we’re not that far off in SA, and in some instances even ahead. More on that in a later piece.

Follow @triggerisobar and Twitter list @Bizcommunity/sxswsa2012 for the duration of the festival.

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[13 Mar 2012 10:09]

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