Posts Tagged ‘Brand’

Bitcoin, Brands and Brand Positioning

Bitcoin started out as a fringe movement among crypto-anarchists in the open-source community, but has rapidly gained acceptance as a legitimate alternative to fiat money as it pertains to digital transactions. Accordingly, the volume and value of mined Bitcoin has seen exponential growth since this crypto-currency was first launched in 2009. As per available data, nearly 13.28 million Bitcoins have been mined so far [1]. Meanwhile, the value of a single Bitcoin has increased from £4.25 in July 2012 to a high of £753 in November 2013 – an increase of roughly 17600% [2].

Bitcoin was originally developed as a fast, safe and cost-effective currency for digital transactions. Consequently, its earlier adopters were tech-forward users in the open-source community. Despite its growing clout in the mainstream, Bitcoin’s most aggressive proponents remain largely entrenched in this community.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, to learn that brand Bitcoin, as it exists today, has come to be associated with words like “underground”, “alternative”, and even “anarchic”. This lends it considerable weight as a branding tool for certain businesses. For others, the negative connotations of Bitcoin, along with its proliferation through underground marketplaces, can be largely detrimental to the business’ brand image. Adopting and accepting Bitcoin through online channels, therefore, is something a brand must consider carefully before making a decision.

Bitcoin as the “maverick”

virgin-bitcoin

There are some obvious business arguments in favour of using Bitcoin, namely, the low transaction costs associated with the currency, emphasis on privacy, storage of coins in digital wallets, and speed of transactions. This has made the currency especially useful for digital-only transactions (i.e. purchasing digital products) where user privacy is important. For example, the popular website Reddit, which emphasises anonymity, accepts Bitcoin as a transactional medium largely because of its privacy features (Reddit’s community is also tech-oriented, which helps in higher adoption). Since Bitcoin is also decentralised and unregulated, it has earned the image of being a “pro-internet freedom” currency.

Integrating Bitcoin gives a brand the added advantage of aligning itself with Bitcoin’s brand associations. As noted earlier, Bitcoin has come to be associated with the “alternative”. In some ways, this is not dissimilar to the debate between open-source and closed-source software in the 1990’s, when some brands adopted open-source solutions such as Linux to position themselves as the “mavericks” who care about “community” and “digital freedom”.

Consider the example of the popular domain registrar, Namecheap. Namecheap has consistently positioned itself as the alternative to the more mainstream registrars (chiefly, Enom.com and GoDaddy.com). To this effect, it has aligned itself with pro-internet movements such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal fight against the SOPA (“Stop Online Piracy Act”) in the United States in 2011 [3]. Namecheap later started accepting Bitcoin in 2013, noting in its release statement that the company considers itself the “pioneers in the space of innovation and online freedom” [4].

Bitcoin-Brands

In fact, the top websites that accept Bitcoins is almost entirely composed of brands that identify themselves as the “alternative” [5]. This includes Virgin Galaxy (space flights), OkCupid (the free alternative to Match.com), PirateBay.org (free, pirate alternative to file sharing), WordPress.com (free alternative to paid Content Management Systems), Reddit.com (alternative to Digg), Mega.com (alternative, restriction-free file sharing), and Overstock.com (online-only alternative retailer).

When a business adopts Bitcoin, it is signalling to its users that it is a “maverick” that cares about issues such as internet-freedom, user privacy and being tech-forward. Brands that self-identify with these qualities would benefit the most from adopting Bitcoin – at least in the form that it exists today.

… Bitcoin as the “criminal”

website-seized

However, the privacy and anonymity of Bitcoin has also made it the favoured transaction medium in underground marketplaces known for trading illegal drugs and contraband. The volume of this trade is immense, although given the secretive nature of these marketplaces, the exact figure is hard to ascertain. By one estimate, roughly half of all Bitcoin transactions are to buy drugs online [6].

The large volume of these transactions, coupled with the recent closure of Silk Road [7] (the largest underground marketplace) and massive security breaches at popular exchanges like Mt. Gox [8] have affected Bitcoin’s image in the mainstream. Besides “alternative”, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that some have also started associating words like “illegal”, “scam” and “unsafe” with the currency (howsoever factually untrue it may be) [9]. Naturally, this association rubs off on brands who choose to adopt the currency. For mainstream brands that don’t have tech-forward audiences that understand Bitcoin, this may even backfire.

The keyword, thus, is “alternative”.

Given the current state of Bitcoin, every brand should make careful considerations before aligning itself with the currency. While on the one hand, it can amplify the “maverick” image of a brand that identifies itself as tech-forward, pro-internet freedom and “alternative”, it can also harm the image of a brand with customers who don’t fully understand Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies.

Further Reading

[1] https://blockchain.info/charts/total-bitcoins?timespan=1year&showDataPoints=false&daysAverageString=1&show_header=true&scale=0&address=

[2] http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/2013/11/29/bitcoin-hits-record-1242-as-it-nears-value-of-ounce-of-gold/

[3] http://venturebeat.com/2011/12/27/namecheap-offers-discount-for-domain-transfers/

[4] https://www.namecheap.com/support/payment/bitcoin.aspx

[5] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonmatonis/2013/05/24/top-10-bitcoin-merchant-sites/

[6] http://lsvp.com/2013/08/15/about-half-a-percent-of-bitcoin-transactions-are-to-buy-drugs/

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/silk-road-closed/

[8] http://www.wired.com/2014/03/bitcoin-exchange/

[9] http://www.debate.org/opinions/is-bitcoin-a-scam

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Brand vs Reputation Within The Higher Education Sector

Over the past few decades, league tables have become part and parcel of the education sector in the United Kingdom. Whether academics like it or not, this includes higher education institutions, which are increasingly driven by their performance in various university rankings. This focus on reputation, however, can marginalise the equally vital imperative to work on the university’s overall brand.

Distinguishing Between Brand And Reputation

The concept of ‘branding’ is now so endemic within society that it has come to mean many different things to those who use the term. When understood from a professional viewpoint, however, it has a very specific meaning. A successful brand is one that communicates a set of overriding values from the institution to the consumer or customer. One of those values may well be ‘continued excellence’, but they may equally include ‘links with the business community’, or ‘superb social scene’. A brand is a complicated and interconnected nexus of messages, and cannot be reduced simply to academic performance.

In contrast, reputation can be viewed in the context of a higher education institution as reflecting continued performance on the academic stage. Regardless of their branding – which are equally successful in their various ways – Oxford’s academic reputation is clearly greater than University of East Anglia’s, for example. In other words, a university’s brand is not necessarily the same as its reputation, and is certainly not synonymous with its academic reputation. A careful branding strategy will not rest simply on reputation, but will be sculpted to the institution’s own strengths and weaknesses.

Performance Is Important…

Of course, it cannot be denied that academic reputation, symbolised by an institution’s position in league tables and similar rankings, is important. Many universities will have dedicated at least part of their branding efforts into communicating a message about their areas of academic strength, and a poor showing over an extended period of time will certainly undermine that message. HEFCE themselves, however, acknowledge that league table position tends to confirm institutional reputation, rather than forging it from scratch (cf Locke, Verbik et al, 2008).

Performance in league tables and other such rankings will, therefore, be significantly more important for those institutions which have invested much of their brand effort into their academic strengths. This is not always about strong reputation across the board, however, as many institutions will have identified an academic USP into which they will pour most of their reputation enhancing efforts. An institution which promotes itself as a significant leader in the area of legal studies, for example, may not be as concerned by a low rating in the sciences as it would be by a poor ranking in law.

…But It Isn’t Everything

Many academic studies have confirmed the finding that successful branding performs a role which affects the popular view of an institution over and above league table positions (cf Chapleo, 2011, for an example). This should hardly be surprising, as no prospective student or academic chooses an institution solely using the criteria of academic performance. If this were so, Cambridge would boast all of the best academics and students in the UK, to the detriment of every other institution. Whilst it cannot be denied that Cambridge’s reputation has had a significant impact on its recruitment and retention, the branding efforts of other universities have succeeded in attracting some talent away from the institution which, on the face of it, should surely be the obvious first choice for anyone making an academically orientated decision.

A strong brand communicates far more than a simple league table position can when it comes to a university’s strengths and USP, and a strong branding strategy can compensate for significant weaknesses in academic rankings. Indeed, Locke et al (2008) have found that league table position is predominantly used to ‘confirm a decision already made’ when it comes to students deliberating over whether to attend a specific university.

Effective Branding Improves Performance

That ‘decision already made’ is informed and guided largely by the success or failure of an institution’s branding strategy. Whilst academic reputation may be one plank of that strategy, the most successful universities weave in a host of different values to form a strong and coherent brand which attracts both students and academics, as well as research funding and benefactors. As covered in previous articles, this can create a ‘virtuous circle’, in which a strong brand feeds into academic reputation. Performance can be improved by a strong branding effort, whilst strong performance cannot make up for a weak brand.

This is clearly evident if one imagines a high achieving student, choosing between universities. Whilst clearly academic reputation will be a factor, it will not be the only influence on the ultimate decision. Certainly, if the reputation of the two institutions is finely balanced, the student will be making the decision based on the branding of the two universities, and what that says about the kind of institution to which they wish to belong. The university which ‘wins’ this branding competition will secure an excellent student, whilst the university which loses will miss out on the best talent. This will have repercussions for decades to come, particularly if such a decision is repeated over multiple years by multiple students. Before long, the reputation of the ‘losing’ university will be dipping, and the reputation of the ‘winning’ university will be rising – and all because of an emphasis, or lack of it, on branding.

Further Reading

Chapleo, C. (2011). Exploring rationales for branding a university: Should we be seeking to measure branding in UK universities&quest. Journal of Brand Management, 18(6), 411-422.

Locke, W. (2011). The Institutionalization of Rankings: Managing Status Anxiety in an Increasingly Marketized Environment. University Rankings, 201-228.

Locke, W., Verbik, L., Richardson, J. T., & King, R. (2008). Counting what is measured or measuring what counts? League tables and their impact on higher education institutions in England.

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Social Media Concerns: How to Manage Dissatisfied Customers

The essence of social media is providing an avenue to connect with customers online. As a business owner, you will have the opportunity to present the features and benefits of the products that you are offering.

Your readers, in turn, will have the chance to review, purchase, or complain. At some point, you will experience a dissatisfied online customer who will complain about bad service or a broken promise.

It is your job to take this opportunity to convert an irate client to a satisfied and returning customer.

Here are some tips to consider:

Step One: Be Aware

You cannot address an issue that you do not know about. Listen to the concerns of your customers by allowing them to leave comments on your website. Keep watch of the activity on your Facebook page. Make sure to keep a regular check on Twitter hash tags or replies related to your business. Read forums and review sites that cater to the nature of your business. Knowing about the negative comments and feedback about your products and services in the soonest possible time will help avert a potentially disastrous outcome.

Step Two: Respond Immediately

Immediate action is required when dealing with customer complaints. The longer you take to make a statement, the harder it becomes to resolve the situation. On occasion, you will need intensive research and background checks before you can provide an acceptable explanation. In such situations, you can simply leave a message explaining the actions you need to take and a turn around time for a response.

Some offensive comments are not worth the response. If the criticism is made out of spite or bigotry, then it may be best to simply delete the post. Your other customers will ignore rude or discriminatory remarks especially if made without basis. Instead, you should focus on working on action items that are within your control.

Step Three: Connect With Your Customer

Avoid canned or scripted responses. Speak like an actual person and try to relate with how your customers must be feeling. Giving them a copy of your terms and conditions will only aggravate the situation. Acknowledge their concern and let them know that you understand what they are going through. Empathise with them and let them know that you will feel the same way if the situation happened to you. Reassure them and tell them that you will do everything in your power to resolve the situation.

Step Four: Make Things Right

A sincere apology may help appease an irate customer, but fixing the problem is the only way to win them over. Offer to make things right for the customer. Replace the broken product or give a refund for lost deliveries. You can also opt to provide discounts or freebies for future purchases. People make mistakes, but what is important is how we correct those errors.

Step Five: Do Not Get Emotional

As the business owner, you need to be the voice of reason. Customers are expected to complain, but business owners who get into an argument with their clients are seen in a bad light. Even if you know you are right, you need to be patient enough to clearly explain the logistics to the customer. Getting into a fight with them will not resolve the situation.

Step Six: Get Their Involvement

A negative comment is a great opportunity for learning and improvement. If a customer complains about a certain feature, ask him what changes need to be made to improve the product. Make them feel that their input is valuable. If you consider their suggestions, make sure to involve them during product testing or the product launch.

Step Seven: Make Sure the Discussion is Visible

It is tempting to keep the conversation offline, but providing solutions in plain sight will let the world know that you are serious about providing excellent service. You also make other people aware that you are constantly working on improving your products. If you provide a clear solution for a specific issue, there will be no need for other customers to send in similar complaints.

Unhappy customers will always be a part of your business. There will always be something to complain about. Dissatisfied customers tend to spread the word around so it is essential to change their mind about your company. Use the negative feedback to your advantage and turn a bad situation into a learning opportunity.

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Social Media Management – A Task for One Person?

Social media management is a hot topic amongst marketing managers and in general organisations typically have specialised departments dealing with specific tasks and concerns.

Human Resources handle people issues, the IT department handles system concerns, and Legal handles matters of the law. Social media concerns and tools usually fall under the jurisdiction of the Marketing department because they involve promotions and press releases.

Announcements and responses that come from a single source tend to be more streamlined and consistent to the core vision of the company.  But are companies that rely on a single person or department missing out on the full potential of social media?

Having a single person or department dedicated solely to social media functions may have its advantages, but a bigger group of people can certainly produce a more impressive output. You can either have a single person or group do 100% of the social media tasks, or have the majority of your employees spend 5% of their time attending to these tasks. In theory, having dozens or even hundreds of employees representing the company in social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook will result to a wider audience reach.

Here are some of the advantages of having multiple social media outlets:

1. More people create more noise.

Having multiple employees sending out positive Tweets or writing blogs about the company says a lot about employee satisfaction and improves the branding of the company. The message also reaches a wider audience.

2. Employees will keep up with technology and will be adept on using social media tools.

It is essential to train the employees on the proper usage of social media tools for this system to work. They need to know how to properly represent the company, and how to increase the number of followers or subscribers. This training will not only be beneficial for work but is also applicable to personal endeavors.

3. Different employees have different strengths and interests.

They will produce blogs, Tweets, or Facebook updates that relate to them personally but are relevant to the nature of your business. Your company will benefit from this because of the diversity of content that will be available online. You will reach a wider and more diverse market. Interest in your products or services will also increase. Employees can also experiment with these tools and can potentially come up with an innovative approach to promotions.

4. The feedback system will also improve when you have a large number of people checking the web vigilantly.

It is possible to report important updates and news flashes that can affect operations in the soonest possible time. You can also detect customer complaints easily and address them immediately. Generally, about 60 to 80 percent of customer complaints made via social media channels are ignored because of lack of manpower.

This results to customer dissatisfaction and a missed opportunity for improvement.

5. Employees will be empowered. Social media exposure is a huge responsibility. Your employees will feel valued and trusted.

In order for a business model like this to work, it is essential to invest in social media training and corporate awareness. The employees need to be adept with how to utilise the tools to further the interest of the business.

They need to understand that social media will be an essential part of their daily tasks. They also need to realise that they will become the front liners of the business. They will be representing the company and any post that they make will be a reflection of the company’s mission and vision.

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Brand Naming – In Search of the Perfect Name with 7 Golden Rules

September 12, 2012 |  by  |  Strategic Brand Management  |  4 Comments

All brand namers and copywriters have their own set of beliefs when creating a brand name. I give you my 7, as Al Ries would say – “violate them at your own risk”.

1. The Perfect Name Is Easy To Read And Spell

“FLICKR is the worst name ever.”

In the era of war between millions of brands trying to grab your attention, mouth to mouth advertising has become effective like never before. When your loyal client’s mouth speaks to your potential client’s ears, make sure your brand name will be spelled right by the latter. Don’t complicate things. If you have a Marketing degree, odds are you already know that branding is all about making it easier for consumers. Just like complicated advertising messages never work, the same is true with complicated names. This rule probably doesn’t apply to companies owned by Yahoo, like Flickr.

2. The Perfect Name Is Readable In One Way Only

[ESPRI:] or [ESPRIT]?

Again, to make it easier, all your consumers should read and say your brand name the same way. There are many company names spelled differently around the globe. Even great brands like Porsche, Nordsee and Esprit can be stated as examples. This usually happens when a language different from English is used. Have in mind that English is the planet Earth’s official language today. This year, Esprit Holdings are closing all their stores in North America, because they have been losing money. I hope this doesn’t happen to Nordsee, being a fan of their fish.

3. The Perfect Name Is Available For Trademark Registration

(SIGH) Those legal details …

This is the final detail of the naming process, yet it can bring you where you started. Today, there are more than 300,000 trademarks, just in the United States. If you are creating a name yourself, make sure you check your favourite names with a lawyer who has experience in intellectual property. If you are outsourcing the naming process, make sure you choose a naming company that does at least a preliminary trademark screening. Anyway, if you have plans to build a business operating in an area larger than your neighbourhood, your name should be trade-markable.

4. The Perfect Name Evokes A Relevant Positive Emotion

“Honey, you’ve bought me a Grundig epilator? Really?”

Some companies forget that a brand name is not just something you can put on every product out there. A brand name carries a certain emotion, an idea. So, it has to be the right idea. Remember that once your brand is built, that idea will become the brand itself. During the naming process, you can ask people from your target group to tell you what your favourite names make them think of. Focus groups would be even better. It’s always fun seeing what associations a name can evoke. These associations should be positive and relevant.

5. The Perfect Name Is Either Suggestive Or Enigmatic

“No, Grandma, I am not a sailor – Shell is an oil company!”

No other option. Suggestive or enigmatic. The suggestive name speaks for its industry, while the enigmatic name needs a speaker. The perfect name is either obvious or mysterious. If you choose to be mysterious, you will have to create a mysterious story behind your brand. There are theories of different types of brand names, for instance, the “trademark distinctiveness” divides names into 5 types: fanciful (coined names with the classic example of Kodak), arbitrary (meaningless context names, two of the greatest being Shell and Apple), suggestive (names like the catchy Dropbox), descriptive (names like the beloved Milka) and generic (common names that cannot be trademarked). If you ask me, I would drop names like Dropbox and Milka in the suggestive box and all the rest – in the enigmatic box. As simple as that.

6. The Perfect Name Stands Out From The Competitors’ Brands

“I want my name to be unique but not weird!”

Competition also plays an important role in brand naming. It is easy to come up with a name that sounds different from the competitors’ brands. The hard job is to develop a brand name that sounds different and better at the same time. This is where naming starts to look like art, as namers have to find the golden balance between the totally obvious and the totally new. Business owners are always after a name that is catchy and unique at the same time. However, just a small part of them have the courage to deviate from the mainstream. Be bold on this one.

7. The Perfect Name Jumps Out

“A name for a business jump!”

Now, this is where naming goes from art to magic. Even if you follow all the directions above, there is still a risk you may end up with a name that nobody would love. “Somehow, it just didn’t strike me as a great name”, they would say. The truth is names are subjective. This is what makes naming so exciting. You have to feel that THIS is the right name for you. People get personal with names. The process of naming your business is pretty much the same as the process of naming your child. You just know if it is the right one when you say it. Hence, don’t forget to say the names out loud when you make that choice.

Conclusion

Brand naming can be fun and it can also be exhausting. For naming companies, it is an exhausting fun. The good news is that naming is crucial for your business success yet it is not that expensive to outsource. And maybe you are a born namer – make a try with these 7 rules in mind. It is fun the first few days, I promise.

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