Aflac Looks for New Voice

Known for it’s strong social media presence, Aflac (and its trademark duck) recently entered some unfamiliar waters… hot water.

After making a number of insensitive cracks about the recent disaster in Japan, the voice of the Aflac duck was relieved of his duties.  As a result, the insurance company was in need of a new voice to represent its brand through the various social media platforms that it has been active on over the last several years.  However; what could have been a public relations disaster has been parlayed into a creative social campaign designed to find the next voice of the Aflac duck.

Aflac’s quick response to the situation distanced the brand from the opinions of  the its former spokesperson.  While incidents like these are unfortunate, the company’s deep involvement in social media allowed it to reach customers quickly to involve them in a search for a new voice.  This involvement has not only helped people forget about the recent comments, but will also undoubtedly lead to a voice that customers can resonate with.

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Social Media Metics and ROI

Since the emergence of social media marketing as a way of maintaining a continual dialogue and brand recognition with customers, brand marketers have struggled to understand the true impact of their online efforts.

Syncapse recently published a whitepaper on  understanding Facebook fan value and key return on investment indicators.  I recommend that any brand marketer interested in better understanding the online landscape and the value of engaging customers through social media platforms read it and consider how to provide relevant content to potential customers (and convert them to brand ambassadors) online.

Similar to a Twitter follower, a Facebook fan will be more valuable if they have a true interest in your brand and product offerings.  The number of facebook fans a brand collects is less important than who those fans are.  In other words, quality trumps quantity.  Knowing who is following your brand will go a long way in understanding their value and the return on your online activities.

What does your company do to assess the quality of your social media following?

Brands that Engage

To date, the majority of brands that have experienced success online have done so by engaging customers through campaigns designed to involve online communities in the brands’ development. One-time give-a-ways and discount offers to followers will attract one-time visits, but brands that truly engage will be top of mind to customers for a much more significant and meaningful period of time. Involving them in the development of the brand, for example, gives customers a rooting interest in an outcome that they’ll follow with interest. Further, when companies accept input and feedback (and actually act on some of it) it makes customers feel like they’re more than just the end purchasers of the product.

Papa John’s recently launched a social media campaign called “Papa’s Specialty Pizza Challenge”. Customers have been given the challenge of creating a new specialty pizza for Papa John’s menu. The top three pizzas will be featured on the pizza chain’s menu through the month of August, with the winner being the pie that earns the highest sales figures.

The contest winner will receive 1% of sales (up to $10,000) for the one year period the pizza will be offered after the contest and free Papa John’s pizza for life. The winner will also appear in a Papa John’s television commercial.

A little like American Idol for pizza lovers, the new Papa John’s campaign is a great example of efforts made to engage customers online. Dominos recently used the online space to obtain feedback on it’s pizza and built a new receipe based on the customer input. Papa John’s; however, is going one step further, linking efforts to incentives that will undoubtedly create a buzz around the campaign. In my opinion, the contest offers more than just financial incentive, but the opportunity for loyal Papa John’s customers to become a part of the ‘Papa John’s family’.

Patience is a Virtue

They say patience is a virtue, but as technological advancements spark new product development quicker than ever before, patience becomes an even more important characteristic, particularly for those that truly support an idea from the beginning.

In many cases, technology is moving faster than the level of consumer comfort required for the mass adoption of new product or service models that people simply aren’t used to. Innovators and entrepreneurs must be careful not to mistaken slow adoption for product failure.

Four Square, for example, has been slow to catch on – but it’s potential is huge and supporters continue to believe that with time usages levels will improve. Some believe that GPS enabled products have been slower to popularize because the average consumer is not yet comfortable revealing their location. Just as the masses have grown comfortable with the privacy concerns that were raised regarding access to personal information on Facebook, I expect similar consumer tolerance of location based services over time.

According to this source, Four Square and Gowalla both had an impact at the SXSW this year, to me, a strong indication of things to come.

The Social Media Road Less Travelled

As defined by Merriam Webster dictionary, a pathfinder is ‘one that discovers a way; especially: one that explores untraversed regions to mark out a new one’. Paving a path undefined by predecessors, pathfinders are everywhere rethinking unconventional ideas and questions that most people would view as having only one predetermined answer.

Below is an excerpt from a blog I came across today on B2B social marketing:

If your Twitter account is simply a product information broadcast, you won’t have many followers. If you don’t share any helpful, interesting or fun content on your Facebook account, your pages will get little traffic.

On the other hand, if you reject this approach to marketing, and use social media as part of an inbound marketing strategy, it will become a core part of your marketing mix. If you engage with your industry’s community on Twitter, if you share top-notch content on Facebook, and build relationships on LinkedIn, social media will work for you.

“Wait!” you say. “We’re a B2B operation! We don’t have social-savvy customers like B2C companies.”

Lame excuse.

No question, social media grew out of the consumer space, and B2C examples of social media success are easy to find. But take a step back. Look at the value that businesses get out of social media.

If you approach social media without a real strategy because you don’t believe it will work, it won’t. Many companies set out to ‘test’ social media marketing channels, but simply don’t take the time to implement the strategic framework required to achieve real long term results. Nothing is going to happen overnight and marketers have to recognize that, just like any other channel, successful social media activities take significant time and effort.

While it’s obvious that B2C operations have achieved more measurable success through social media marketing, dismissing it as a useful strategy for B2B’s would be foolish. Social media helps people and businesses connect and engage with one another, and its capacity to facilitate conversation does not exclude business to business interaction. Companies don’t make purchasing decisions, the people within them do.

Don’t neglect a path just because it’s never been taken before. Be a pathfinder and make a real difference.

Aflac Quacks it’s Way to Social Media Success

Have you ever heard of the American Family Life Assurance Company?  A question that would likely be met with blank stares welcomes a completely different reaction when the company is referred to by its acronym, Aflac.

In 2008 Aflac’s revenues were $16.8 billion, a 44% increase from 2003 results.  The biggest reason for the company’s sudden success?  A campaign centred around an ‘Aflac’ quacking duck.   Click here for Daniel P. Amos’ (Aflac CEO) account of how he fell for the duck, featured in last month’s Harvard Business Review. The company’s improved brand awareness and name recognition has made them a leader in the two largest insurance markets in the world, the United States and Japan.

Aflac is a great example of a company that has leveraged the success of a traditional ad campaign through the effective use of social media integration.   As evidenced by demand for stuffed replicas of the Aflac duck following the release of the original ad campaign, the duck created a brand ambassador customers had developed a connection with. 

Aflac created a website that allowed people to rework the words the duck sings in its Japanese Aflac commercials.  In only 2 months, over 100,000 people had posted spoofs of the song online.  Today, the Aflac Duck has over 170,000 Facebook fans (I just became one).

Social media has allowed Aflac to further develop the personality of its star performer.  The duck has become more than just a part of an advertistement. He’s the face of the franchise.  Interested in knowing about some of the duck’s personal interests?   Facebook has the answer:

“I like watching funny videos on the internet, and hanging out. Food network- especially that Paula Deen. Listening to music. Acting in commercials. Pretty much, I’m living the dream. I would be into French food, but they use more duck than I’m comfortable with.”

Social Media Success Stories

Based on my post from a day ago, I’ve decided to dedicate part of this blog to providing examples of social media success stories that can be used as proof that social media marketing channels can contribute significant return on investment to a wide range of organizations within varying industries. I’ve added a blog category titled “Success Stories” that will act (similar to CaseStudiesOnline.com) as a database of precedents for readers to look back on to justify future online strategies.

Molson Canadian

Being from Canada, and given that we are in the midst of the Olympic Games in Vancouver, I thought it would be fitting to discuss a campaign that Molson Canadian rolled out as a part of their 2010 Olympic related marketing efforts.

“Gear Up For Gold” is a campaign Molson Canadian developed with the goal of engaging customers through social media channels. On their website, fans are able to customize Olympic gear that can then be added to personal profiles used for posting on both Facebook (which recently passed Yahoo as the second most visited website behind Google) and Twitter. The campaign has seen Molson’s Facebook ‘friend’ numbers jump from 30,000 prior to the Olympics to over 260,000 people today. In comparison, Budweiser (boasting the 2nd largest beer fan site) has only 98,000 friends on Facebook.

To create a buzz, 3000 Molson employees were given a sneak peek of some of the campaign’s ads and were urged to spread the news ahead of their release. This goes to show how using internal brand ambassadors can be an effective way of promoting your company’s products or services at a low cost.

The social media strategy is considered the main reason for Molson Canadian’s improved identity with beer drinking Canadians, and have clearly revived what was slowly becoming quite an unmemorable brand.  With beer consumption in British Columbia projected to be up 19% over the same period of time last year, Molson has done a great job of making their brand visible at just the right time. For those that are concerned that social media strategies lack the ability to convert sales and drive revenues, Molson provides an example of a company that has used online customer interaction to increase exposure to their brand over a period of time that they knew there would be high demand for their product (beer).

Note: Statistics from The Globe and Mail article titled “Brewer Dons the Red Jersey for the Home Team” (February 23rd, 2010)