Authentic people make brands authentic

Authentic brands start with authentic people — people who express a passion for what they do and an interest in sharing that passion even if you don’t buy something from them.

I was reminded of this lesson recently when my family and I made our annual visit to the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin. From July to September, a woods just off the interstate is fashioned into the English hamlet of Bristol circa 1574.  Both amateur Renaissance enthusiasts and professional entertainers adorn period dress and assume roles as minstrels, lords, and merchants each weekend from morning to evening.  And all of them make the faire authentic for me although not necessarily for the reason you might think.

You can have a lot of fun without the internet

The first time I visited a few years ago, I didn’t think I’d enjoy the experience. I imagined jugglers getting in my face while I tried to eat a turkey leg.  But my doubts subsided from the moment I began to explore the village.  The experience seemed so real, so genuine, and not because of the period clothing.  Rather, the boundless enthusiasm of the people felt real — their joy at expressing something bigger than themselves and their friendliness to everyone around them, regardless of who you are or how you dress.  That’s what counts.  Without their passion, the faire would feel phony regardless of how authentic the village of Bristol might look.

A happy couple out for a stroll

A case in point is the entertainer MooNie the Magnif’Cent, a minstrel who performs a highly popular comedy act.  The joy in seeing MooNie comes from his love of the audience, really, not just his stage antics.  It’s an important distinction.  You can be a competent professional if you do your job well.  But the bond you create with your customer, however brief the moment, makes the experience authentic.

MooNie playing with fire

Everyone loves MooNiE

Following are some additional images from a recent experience.  If you live anywhere near Chicago or Milwaukee, check out the faire before it closes for the season Labor Day weekend.

Robin Hood and Maid Marion share a difference of opinion

A joker delights children

The faire delights children

Yes, they do joust at the faire

Mysterious tree fairies

Try not to annoy her

One of the many village musicians

Razorfish report dispels social myths

If you’re trying to build a brand through social media or influencers, chances are you’ve experienced a steep learning curve.  Well, don’t feel so bad — you have plenty of company according to a new report launched by my employer Razorfish.

According to Fluent: The Razorfish Social Influence Marketing Report, companies still have a long way to go in order to build their brands effectively through social.  Consumers surveyed by Razorfish report widespread indifference to brands in the social world.  For instance, about 60 percent of consumers don’t bother to seek out opinions of brands via social media.

The notion that brands are finally learning the social ropes is among the Social Influence Marketing myths that Fluent dispels, as discussed by my colleague Shiv Singh, the report’s principal author and editor.  Another interesting finding: consumers believe television is more trustworthy than social media advertising when purchase decisions are made:

So what gives?

The problem is actually not all that complicated: marketers are treating social just like TV, as a broadcast mechanism.  So actually we should not be surprised that consumers trust TV more than social ads.  TV has been around for decades.  Consumers are more comfortable with TV in many respects.

We believe the answer is for companies to take advantage of the participatory nature of social and to develop an authentic social voice built on humility and genuine interest in consumers.  Comcast is trying to do so through its responsive Comcast Cares account in Twitter.  (Speaking as a consumer, I’ve used Comcast Cares to address problems with my bill, and Comcast really does care.)  Comcast doesn’t use Twitter to tell you how great it is but to participate in the conversation we’re having about Comcast. Comcast is acting like a brand that does instead of a brand that just talks.

Razorfish works with a number of companies that also demonstrate the right way to build a brand in the social world. I’ve blogged about a number of them, such as Intel, Levi’s, and Mattel.  For instance, to build brand awareness among gamers and designers, in 2008 Intel worked with Razorfish to launch the Digital Drag Race.  The Digital Drag Race challenged designers to create short films using the Intel Core i7 microprocessor.  Intel employed social media influencers (including Intel’s own Michael Brito) and media (including contest entries posted on YouTube) to generate buzz among the design and gaming community.

Fluent is also significant for introducing the SIM Score, designed to help marketers measure the effectiveness of your brand in a world where social influencers hold sway.  The SIM Score, created with the help of TNS Cymfony and The Keller Group, measures how much consumers talk about your brand and how positive or negative those discussions are.  In Fluent, Razorfish applies the SIM Score to companies ranging from GM to Capital One.  Although the SIM Score focuses on the online world, in two industries we correlate the SIM score to the offline world, too.

Check out what Advertising Age says about the SIM Score.  For other outside perspectives, blog posts from Guy Kawasaki and Dave Knox are also informative.

Let me know what you think of Fluent.  Please also visit Shiv Singh’s blog, Going Social Now, where periodically Shiv will provide deeper commentary on Fluent.

Amnesia Razorfish builds its brand by doing

In January, my Razorfish colleagues Garrick Schmitt and Malia Supe wrote an insightful blog post, “Brands Do.”  They asserted that in the era of consumer participation, brands must spend more time doing things than saying things.  Amnesia Razorfish (part of the Razorfish global network) just provided an example of the “Brands Do” ethos.

For three consecutive years, Amnesia Razorfish has won the Adnews interactive agency of the year award, and its embrace of Social Influence Marketing is one of the reasons.  Amnesia Razorfish doesn’t tell the world, “We understand social!”  The agency shows everyone through its actions.

For instance, on June 30, Iain McDonald, an Amnesia Razorfish founder, conducted an experiment to test the power of Twitter.  He publicly challenged Coke and Pepsi to say hello to each other on Twitter and then asked others to retweet his challenge — no small task given the rivalry between the two brands:

But within hours, Coke gave Pepsi a hello on Twitter and even started to follow Pepsi:

Not long thereafter, Pepsi responded in kind:

It’s not the first time rivals have said hello on Twitter.  Yahoo famously welcomed Google to Twitter.  What’s different about the Coke/Pepsi story is how Iain collaborated with the Twitter universe to inspire the two brands to play nice — a real application of one of today’s hottest buzzwords, crowd-sourcing.

The experiment worked because the idea was irresistible and because Iain leveraged the many influential followers he has built on Twitter.  Those followers, in turn, influenced their followers.  The story has generated attention in publications like Advertising Age and Brand Republic — a boon for the Amnesia Razorfish brand attributable to Iain’s actions as opposed to anything he overtly said about Amnesia Razorfish.  For those of us trying to live the social values, Amnesia Razorfish offers a lesson in building a brand through action.

Mercedes-Benz USA creates luxury online

In earlier blog posts, I’ve discussed how Razorfish clients like Intel, Mattel, and MillerCoors are making bold product launches amid the recession.  All along, Mercedes-Benz USA has been doing just that.

Case in point: as announced recently, MBUSA has launched the 2010 E-Class automobile with the support of a major online/offline marketing effort managed by Merkley & Partners and my employer Razorfish.  In doing so, MBUSA has stayed true to its brand and avoided the temptation to compete on price during down times.

As Steve Cannon, vice president of marketing for MBUSA, told The New York Times, “I’d rather tell our brand story, our innovation story, our value story, than join the chorus of everyone else that’s screaming ‘sale’ — that’s about the only message that’s out there right now.”

And the entire marketing campaign, “Everything We Know, Everything We Are: This Is Mercedes-Benz,” reflects the Mercedes-Benz reputation for innovation and a first-class automotive experience.

The digital experience shows you what MBUSA has in mind rather than hit you over the head with the message.  For instance, the online advertising uses cool CGI-enhanced videos including 3-D homepage takeovers of nytimes.com and wsj.com.  Normally we associate CGI with the innovative minds of Pixar.  By employing CGI in its advertising, MBUSA ups the ante for state-of-the-art digital advertising.  (Also demonstrating innovation, MBUSA and Razorfish employ the new Online Publishers Association standards for the ads).

As reported in ClickZ, the ads expand into super-sized web pages with an E-Class coupe bursting out of a 3-D version of The New York Times front page, backlit by a city under a night sky.  You can also rotate the car for a better look.

I like what Razorfish Client Partner Pat Frend told ClickZ “We used CGI to create those compelling environments to tell about those features in ways that are easy for users to understand, and in ways that are also beautiful.”

MBUSA understands that making luxury auto features easy to understand is not the same as dumbing down a product for consumers.  Rather, the technology actually increases the wow factor and draws the consumer into the world of MBUSA.

Razorfish also helped MBUSA create a special E-Class section of the MBUSA website, which also features CGI-enhanced videos.  And in another nod to innovation, MBUSA is using mobile web applications to target consumers using devices such as iPhones.  You can also view the E-Class autos on YouTube.

The online ads launched July 1.  Check them out and let me know what you think of them.

Post Cereals: a fresh approach to corporate giving

According to McKinsey Quarterly, corporations are responding to consumers’ growing expectations to make corporate philanthropy a higher priority.  Post Cereals recently demonstrated an innovative approach to giving.

On June 29, Pebbles, a Post Cereals brand, announced that my employer Razorfish has helped launch PebPals, a philanthropic campaign that supports Australia Zoo Wildlife Worldwide — USA.  Australia Zoo Wildlife is a charity founded by the late Steve Irwin and his wife, Terri.  As part of an integrated offline/online effort created with the assistance of Razorfish, four million packages of Post’s Pebbles carry promotional “PebPals” trading cards.  The cards challenge kids to “adopt” PebPals characters on a children’s game site that Razorfish designed awhile back, Postopia.  Kids can bring these characters to life, play games, and earn points.  They can use the points to vote for how Post should spend a large donation that Post has aside for a number of animal conservation projects.

I think the PebPals story is interesting because a major brand is empowering kids to play an active role in animal conservation, and it’s an example of a creative approach to philanthropy.  You can read the announcement here and coverage from Brandweek.