Brand Ecosystem – A Primer
A piece by Jon (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Firstly, it should be acknowledged that the sheer variety and scope of the online environments that can support an ecommerce and/or blog/fan audience engagement can be daunting and overwhelming. This is where the first rule applies:
Do stuff every day.
I can’t emphasise this enough, it doesn’t have to be a lengthy or extensive task – just keep your hand in – artificially backfilling content is incredibly laborious and soul destroying (and feels fake).
Secondly, this is an exercise in blended activities. Some social media mechanisms are ideal for some activities and useless for others – example: Twitter is an excellent tool for demonstrating your personality (this can be your “brand’s” personality, your own, or a mixture of both). Despite it being fairly one-way – mostly you are just broadcasting (I appreciate that the personal Twitter experience can be very different, and create discussion) but at the start you are going to be tweeting into the abyss with only minimal conversation. This is fine, you’re building the long game – you’re conditioning the market with your characteristics and preference. We are all hard wired to engage better with people that have similar tastes – if you give (genuinely) a little of yourself, you will build credibility as a “real” person/entity. So, the second rule:
Convey real human qualities.
Thirdly, timing is important, example: from simple trend analysis – posts to social media tend to fare better when sent on a Tuesday or a Saturday. Here though I am primarily talking about how quickly you respond to a trigger. A trigger could be someone re-tweeting your tweet, or it could be someone posting a review of one of your products (or product types) on a forum, or on Instagram. It might a press release about a new product/product trend that you had a particular view about (e.g.: skinny cuts, crepe soles, beards etc.). At a very fundamental level it is about replying to communications quickly – people have become accustomed to a wait time in replying to emails – why should they? You should reply within the hour if feasible, quicker if possible – it’s one of the simplest ways to gain instant credibility. So, third rule:
If someone mentions you, emails you, whatever – be quick to reply.
Fourthly, and this relates to personality – don’t use bland commercial words and phrases, be courteous but pepper your communications with intelligent (but brief!) and relevant observations, example: you see their country code TLD (the bit after their domain in their email address), you might express some local knowledge or use a local language greeting (Bonjour etc.). Careful, don’t slip into cheesiness – no walls of text – answer their damn question first and foremost; and ask a question back that relates to their interests (if they’ve asked about a jeans, ask them about their jacket rotation). So, fourth rule:
Be interesting. Don’t be a bland plastic face.
What is the ecosystem? It’s a bit of a hackneyed term but it conveys what you are trying to achieve here – a cross-system/cross platform engagement with audiences and potential audiences. Omnichannel retailing is the most recent buzzword being used in this context – the process of providing a consistent and persistent retail experience for the audience, as they move from online to store, to their mobile, to their tablet, to their experience with your collateral (lookbooks, brochures etc.). This is closely aligned with brand consistency as well – you don’t want the audience to have a jarring experience in one environment when they have just had a great experience in another. When omnichannel retailing is fully explored you can expect to have a very closely linked environment that tracks the customer across all platforms – example: Hertz may monitor Twitter traffic for mentions about their brand – they could respond (extremely quickly) to negative trending – if a customer has tweeted about a sub-standard experience with a car hire that customer could receive a promotional offer in near-realtime (via a tweet).
However, true omnichannel engagement is a costly and lengthy process – initially you will be building an awareness and comfort with widely used social media environments, whilst also exploring how you can develop presence in market/industry enthusiast specific places.
In this section I am going to talk about three core components of this initial familiarisation process/activity:
- Depth of content
- Audience input
Deploying these three components, in conjunction with some simple (but disciplined) usage of social media will result in a genuinely compelling online content and presence, and will equip you to widen your cross-platform market engagement without slipping into knee-jerk, bland sales/marketing speak.
This may not mean your own personality (but I think that is inevitable), but you need to think about how you will formulate Facebook posts, your Pinterest tastes, your Twitter output, your Instagram activity, etc. Output can’t all be “buy this thing, it’s pretty”; high end apparel and gear purchases (for the most part, for normal mortals) will be hyper considered and pondered over; I’ve met enough clothing/denim enthusiasts in my time to know this…You need to bridge the hesitancy gap and help them make that capital purchase or build a logical (sometimes not!) rationale for acquiring something. Common ground and simple relationship building can go a long way here – this is what personality can be used for.
Example usage: You’re running your Twitter account. You don’t want to send 10 consecutive tweets of a product with its link to your site (well, you kind of do because the analytics traffic will make it feel like you did something useful). Rather instead, have a simple rule to follow:
3 tweets a day, one of them is a product + link, one of them is a link to something that demonstrates your deep industry/scene knowledge, one of them is a tiny glimpse into your life (don’t take pictures of your food though unless you have really made a culinary effort), perhaps you made a cocktail and you share the recipe, maybe you went somewhere interesting. More about Twitter later…
We can’t really talk about the personality of a company or an online presence without touching on brand. What underpins it? What are its values? What promise does it make to your customers, fan base or audience? Simple, compelling qualities that are very re-usable will be useful when presenting your brand in web environments.
Personality across the channels
Different channels need some different treatments. Examples:
o Don’t use filters on Instagram (they trend better than those with filters)
o Always think pictures – images are gold, but Facebook is more forgiving, use a casual selection of pics when making a Facebook album, and save the really tasty ones for Twitter and the website
o Try not to recycle pictures that you use for product listings, have a different collection for social media presentation
Niche high end products have a natural fit in the enthusiast forum spaces – what are the natural contenders for where you might engage people? Are you accustomed to spending time in these places already? Are you optimised for online engagement in general – are you willing to give a little of yourself?
Video presentation – highly detailed/well-crafted products a natural fit for a well-produced video (read: DIY); as long as you have good footage you can have quick and credible results with simple tools like Movie Maker.
Consider that you will probably need to be visible in your social media engagement, i.e.: people will see your face, your tastes, and a narrow glimpse of your actual life. Think about how comfortable you will be with this.
Depth of Content
Content variety and depth relates profoundly to personality, audience input and multi-channel presence (i.e.: content on lots of different formats) – I am sure you can tell that all these disciplines are linked, as are the different channels you will use.
As browsers of your brand or presence explore your website and online presence they will want (need) variety and depth. Let’s talk about depth first – niche gear and clothing lend themselves to extensive discussion (well, duh…)
Example: I want to buy some selvedge jeans. I can buy them in many places – high street (Uniqlo, G-Star, kickstarter ventures, online stores stocking niche brands from Japan, via a proxy, the secondary market etc, etc.) – why do I choose you? Pictures are important certainly but I want to hear “story”, I’m not talking about the product description; I want to see a link to a blog post you have personally written about how you sourced a niche pair jeans from a little known retailer, you had an interesting and genuinely interesting discussion with the vendor, maybe you found the real Gabriel Hounds in a back street in Amsterdam, maybe you met a one man band making jeans out of his basement with a vintage Union and OCD level obsession.
Audiences want validation – they will seek confirmation of their forthcoming purchases and enthusiasms from many places, and they will gain that validation from the wider community – forum reviews, specialist review sites, peer approval, etc. For high ticket products we can also assume a longer process of validation.
You will have relatively little control of customer generated review content (well you do in some respects – if they had a really great interaction with you then this will have obvious ripple benefits). What we will mainly talk about to begin with is the depth of content you generate yourself. You have, even to begin with, a number of platforms:
- Your website
- A blog on your website
- Your Facebook page
- Your Twitter account(s)
- Your Instagram account
- Your Pinterest
- Your Reddit presence
All of these platforms have different “tones”; your website (if you are a retailer or similar) will have the product listings, relatively “dry” content that describes the product and provides images, obviously this is essential but this platform offers relatively little opportunity to inject personality; your blog is slightly different, posts here will be informal and varied (video, images, links to external sources); Twitter – this allows short, pithy comments and observations – good for personality but not huge depth; your Facebook page – a good place for depth, informality and many images. You get the point – you’re going to have to maintain a number of different sets of content and keep them fresh and updated often – stale, ghost town social media environments are very easily identified as such. BUT, your content can’t be random and arbitrary, obviously the multi-platforms allow for personality but the product content is the primary focus – but from different angles and perspectives. Example: You feature a new N-1 Deck variant on your website:
- You list the jacket on the website
- You blog about your exhaustive decision making process for why you selected this jacket
- You tweet a WAYWT selfie while drinking a Sazerac at Nightjar
- You tweet a lengthy review of the jacket
- You swamp your Instagram account with tasty pictures (product and lifestyle) with well researched hashtags (and no filters!)
- You post on Facebook and ask for feedback from existing owners
This is just an example, but the overall point here is to make your products be alive, rich with content and detail, relevant and seemingly essential to the people that visit your website and other online environments.
Audience Engagement and Audience Content
This relates strongly to previous concepts (personality and depth of content). Real world, compelling, user generated content is gold – it’s free (mostly) and it adds a variety to your ecosystem that simply cannot be achieved on your own. It validates new purchases and endorses your innate good tastes.
This type of content is general organic, I’m not talking particularly about website product reviews that accompany the product listing, these are fine and you should do them but I talking about the longer, deeper pieces of content that audiences could produce because they genuinely want to talk about their experiences with you and your products. In a corporate context these would take the form for case studies but these doesn’t represent what you should aim for here. Community building should be a goal for you – initially this can be audience submitted reviews (with non-staged pictures), Facebook interactions, an interview with an audience on your blog. Longer term you could consider:
- Audience meet-ups and open days
- Industry event attendance
- A pop-up with some loyal, long term fellow enthusiast drinking booze with you.
- A forum environment that is run by your audience(s)
Audience engagement of this type of non-trivial and hard to do so that it remains natural and unforced (and of course you have to take the rough with the smooth, audience’s will not always be accommodating in the way you want). In the near term you should focus on the basic disciplines of online/social media engagement.
Responding and Acting
So, you’ve gone live, the site looks amazing – what now? Hopefully you will have laid the ground already for your social media environments. The Facebook page will well populated with varied content and you already have plenty of likes. Similarly, the Twitter account will be running and you’ve picked up some followers.
This section is about analysing and responding to engagement with your social media spaces and presence. For most people this will be about Google Analytics and other (more basic analytics tools that are included with ecommerce platforms). This primer is far too brief to even touch specifically on elements of these analytics tools and how to use them; rather I wanted to give an overview of the ways and varied tools that are available (paid and free) that you can use to analyse activity and then respond to it. However, I should emphasise, a good (basic) grounding in Google Analytics will put you in good stead for other activities.
Google Analytics and related tools
You should have Google Analytics open in a tab all the time, don’t obsess about it but learn what it does. A simple example of utilising traffic analysis – you have a newsletter, when do you send it? General stats can give you some idea but you may find that your audience are heavily weighted to South East England do not start to browse until late evening, this may be a good time to send a mid-week email.
Google Adwords – this is another non-trivial tool that you will need to use carefully. Poorly thought out usage will see your daily budget sucked away for no discernable benefit. DO NOT use Adwords unless you have gained a decent amount of analytics experience or get a pro to do it for you. Adwords can be augmented with remarketing tools such as Adroll (http://www.adroll.com/).
Google Trends is an interesting tool that won’t be a mainstay but could help validate your choices and focuses.
Google Global Market Finder is a lesser known Google tool but one you may find valuable – I have to assume you have an international audience. http://translate.google.com/globalmarketfinder/g/index.html
Social Media and Commerce Tools
Responding to social media input and triggers will be a combination of manual responses, customised to the specific trigger and automated tools that you set up to respond.
A simple example of manual response – someone follows you on Twitter, you check their profile, they are not a business and they look like a person that shares your interests or have interests in your products. You follow them back, you send them a direct message to say hi, not with a generic message but one tailored to their apparent tastes; perhaps you glean some relevant info from their twitter output. You strike up a correspondence, perhaps you send them a PDF/images of the new product you have in – an “exclusive” access, and maybe you send them an intro discount code.
Two great Twitter tools:
- Hoot Suite https://hootsuite.com – this is an expanded dashboard that allows you manage Twitter activity much more closely and also automate the sending of pre-written tweets.
- Just Unfollow – https://www.justunfollow.com – this allows you to track people who have unfollowed you, and also search for new followers by geographic region (amongst other things).
Abandoned carts – a simple example of automated response to triggers. “Abandoned carts” are “nearly” purchase that have not completed sale. You can view these abandonments and then email the would-be purchaser, using a link that takes them back to the pre-filled cart.
Email campaigns – this is not just the periodic newsletter that you send out this, these are emails that are sent out at multiple touch points with the audience: at first sign-up, at order despatch, a wish-list reminder email. Automated campaigns can be augmented with ad hoc, manual emails to audiences and customers – you never know where the conversation will go.
Product reviews – you can dedicate a gallery page for this purpose or have product reviews embedded in the product listing page. Customer generated content – this is one of your primary objectives.
Facebook has the highest conversion rate for all social media ecommerce traffic at 1.85% – setup a Facebook store that embeds directly into your FB page. You should also consider paid promotion on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/advertising.
This is just the tiniest sample of tools and processes you can use, I just wanted to convey the variety and power available. Again, it will come down to resources and time when selecting the best approach for you.