It’s all about the brand

gmundLast week I attended a very interesting panel discussion about “Brands, Niche and Manufacturing”.

The discussion took place at the Buettenpapierfabrik Gmund near Tegernsee in Bavaria, a paper manufacturer of fine, hand made papers. Fun fact: they delivered the envelopes for this year’s Oscars!
Present on the panel were, among others, representatives from Gmund, liquor producer Underberg and fashion label Rena Lange. All these brands are in a niche, and they all have a very long entrepreneurial family history.

Some of these brands though only recently started to develop from family names into true brands. Many had grown up with the company and obviously the brand had become somewhat of a self-imposed responsibility. But all agreed that niche brands need to create passion, satisfaction and happiness. They have to stay true to their heritage and make their mark in the niche through quality, pricing and their uniqueness. And as history evolves so should the brand.

An important aspect was the important role customers play for niche brands. Everyone confirmed that the best strategy was to make the customer be the brand advocate. In order to do so, companies need to build up a close proximity to the customer, get to know them, their needs, their lifestyle and use it to incorporate it into the brand image. Excellent public relations was another vital point during the discussion. Good PR, as we all know, is worth more than any spending on advertising or media campaigns  The challenge of course is to keep a constant level of PR and through it  grow the value and trustworthiness of the company and its brand. But it was interesting to hear, that PR is only good when the entrepreneur, the brand owner, gets truly involved. All agreed that agencies (advertising or PR) were helpful but were never able to push the brand and live the brand as good as the company itself.

When asked about budget, and spending, the general opinion was that the most important investment  is into creating an image. Even if this is “only” less than 8% of the overall budget. The panel – much to my pleasure – siad that it was wrong to immediately expect an ROI and that one needed to be patient and consistent. Gmund’s MD Florian Kohler said that one should look at investing in brand image similarly to investing into new machinery. You know that you need it and you can write it off over the years – all the while you are actually creating an asset. And that is what building a brand is all about. It is creating an asset, if not the most important asset of your company. And if you get engaged in and with your own brand this is immediately reflected on the customer.

As a marketer a truly inspiring evening – thank you to Alphazirkel for the great organization!

Facebook’s bait and switch

Are you getting increasingly frustrated with Facebook? Because I sure am!FB

Already in 2012, Facebook made changes to their EdgeRank algorithm that dictates what brand content appears in follower feeds in a move to get people to pay for the promotion of their content. I remember the backlash at the time was huge. So I would have hoped that by now Facebook would have addressed the criticisms and gone back to let followers decide what they want to see and not make that decision for them. But apparently not. Nick Bilton from the New York Times blogged  on Sunday that he had started to see little interaction on his Facebook page despite having over 400,000 followers. All that changed when he paid $7 to promote his columns with his followers on Facebook. Believe it or not he saw a 1000% increase. EdgeRank also has another feature that  influences how often your follower sees a new post depending on how that follower has interacted with you recently, if he has found your posts interesting and how much he has engaged with you. I started to notice this worrying development in the past few weeks on the brand pages that I am managing for my customers. They also have noted a significant drop in interaction. And (even worse) so has my own timeline.

Should an algorithm really make a decision for you what posts you should see? Should a person not make that decision by blocking or unsubscribing? After all it is people who have made a decision to like or follow other people and things that are of interest to us whether we engage, like or just read. Facebook surely is overstepping a boundary here.

To me the true value of a Facebook Fanpage is that I can reach all my followers with every post. As a brand, I value the presence I have on social media channels as they also help me as a brand to engage with my community and get an understanding of my audience. But probably this is of little interest to Facebook (even if they do want the data that is created on a daily basis). What is the true value of a Facebook Fanpage if you do not get all the reach with your post or that you as a follower are not reached? Maybe as a consequence one has to really consider to build up brand audiences on other networks such as Twitter (where the timeline shows everything) or Tumblr.

Hopefully Facebook will remember their mission statement to “make the world more open”. And find  a balance between revenue and entertainment  in order not to become the old MySpace that in the end looked like a littered, paid content cemetery.