Are virtual goods and avatars the next big digital brand endorsers?

23. November 2011 13:54 by MRM Worldwide in   //  Tags:   //   Comments (0)

A mature market

Avatars as well as virtual (game) items were quite popular as a media topic back in the late 90s. To be honest, I myself even worked as the “manager” of a “star avatar” called E-Cyas in 1999. This included giving TV and press interviews in his name, answering fan mails and representing his alter ego in online chat rooms. Yes it was a crazy time! The most prominent star avatar that comes to one's mind might be Lara Croft.  But the concept of online avatars and virtual items dates back to the mid-80s.  After nearly 30 years and after two major dot-com bubble bursts this business has come to a mature state. The popularity of social networks and high speed networks as well as the revolution of the mobile internet helped to turn it into serious business. In Asia this can be seen even stronger than in the rest of the world. There in 2010 over $ 18 billion have been generated through the sales of virtual items and the use of virtual currencies. (Compared to around $2 billion in the US)






E-Cyas “Star-Avatar” Music CD, Lara Craft and United Arrows avatar fashion collection
Looking at Japan
Let's take a brief look at Japan: Here the biggest social networks (mixi, mobage, GREE) are mainly accessed via mobile devices. A trend we can also see happening in the West right now, as more and more people are moving towards data-flatrate plans.  Mobage and GREE –one of Japans biggest social networks- are centered around avatars and social games.  GREE was launched back in 2004 and mobage in 2006.  Each has around 24 Million members. On these platform users can play free games with others, buy/win in-game items and also purchase or be rewarded with new items, clothes and accessories for their personalized avatar or decoration items for their virtual rooms. And this strategy seems to pay off: In 2010/2011 over 85% of GREES $600 million revenue was generated by the sale of virtual avatar goods and in-game items.  Interestingly the heavy users of these platforms and the most avid virtual item and accessories collectors are not teens but mostly females in their mid-20s to mid-30s. All virtual goods purchase is handled through virtual currencies. In mobages case it is called mobage gold. Users can also receive mobage gold coins by clicking on ads or by making an online purchase through a partner store.


Leading mobile social network sites mobage and GREE focusing on avatars and games
Brands becoming active
Also brands could see this growing trend and started to embrace these platforms quickly. Coca Cola Japan for example has partnered with Mobage back in 2006 to offer Coca-Cola branded limited edition avatar clothes and accessories. Other brands like Pizza-La and SevenEleven followed soon after with their own limited edition items and accessories.  Fashion brands even went a step further and launched their new collections within these social networks by providing virtual versions of their new line-ups for the users avatar. Aeon department stores teamed up with mobage recently to have users vote on their favorite Aeon clothes and participants would receive the virtual version of the selected clothes for their avatar.






Coca Cola Japan and mobage partnership for avatar items
Ameba Pigg is another good example. This very cute avatar platform that launched in 2009 already has around 6 million users. The service cashed in around 1 million US$ on virtual item sales during last year's new year's season. Beyond this it is used heavily by brands as an engagement platform. In late 2011 fashion brand Gucci even took it one step further by opening a virtual shop in Ameba Pigg and selling virtual Gucci items for real money. A virtual Gucci bag sells for around 28$.







Amega Piggs virtual Gucci store and Gucci items
The West is catching up
But also in the West it has become more and more popular for brands to offer virtual items for example in Facebook games like Farmville. McDonald partnered with Zyngas in 2011 to offer special FarmVille in-game items like a hot air balloon.  Bing and SevenEleven also have tried similar partnerships. IMVU, a Western avatar chat platform with over 50 million registered users is another good example. They have the largest virtual goods catalogues and brands are already strong involved in providing branded items. Also Japanese platforms are expanding into the West: Both mobage and GREE recently made major global acquisitions and are already offering English versions of their platforms.  Ameba also launched a global PC & mobile version of Ameba Pigg recently. Global game companies are also more and more shifting towards the “item-sale” monetization model. A good recent example is “Smurf’s Village” by Capcom.  Given all that is does not come to a surprise that DeNA, the company behind mobage teamed up with game maker Bandai-Namco this year to start a new global gaming enterprise.


McDonalds FarmVille sponsorship including special virtual items
The Takeaway
What we see here is just the beginning of a bigger trend. And it is a good time to start engaging existing and potential customers through these new possibilities.
For brands wanting to dip their toes into this  field, here are some possible benefits:

  • potential tool to reward existing customers (with virtual branded items/goods)
  • stronger, more direct brand engagement
  • attract potential new targets in a very "playful" way
  • more meaningful and personal from the users point of view
  • users become brand ambassadors (avatars wear the virtual accessory and by talking about it)
  • possibility to collect valuable consumer insights (virtual sampling)

You can also expect to see many more platforms and opportunities evolving in 2012 especially on the mobile platform.

Marco Koeder just joined MRM Japan in September 2011 as the Digital Marketing Group Head.

Marco is originally from Germany and holds a Master degree in Sociology (Marketing & Media).  In Germany he was one of the core members of I-D Media AG, one of Europe's first digital agencies being in charge of marketing for virtual online communities and avatars and then became the marketing head of the interactive TV unit ID-TV.
Later he re-located to Japan to run Cybermedia, a digital strategy agency. He was in charge of developing, implementing and supervising digital strategies for global players in the Japanese market covering web, mobile, social media and IPTV. 

Marco also has several years of research and consumer insight experience as a trend specialist and strategic consultant for global media and telecommunication companies. (Siemens Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Axel Springer AG)
Together with Professor Dr. Philip Sugai and Ludovico Ciferri he published a mobile strategy guide called “The Six Immutable Laws of Mobile Business” based on the experiences and learnings in Japan.(Wiley, 2010)

Are you taking the longer term view of success?

9. November 2011 13:56 by MRM Worldwide in   //  Tags:   //   Comments (0)

It’s difficult to ignore China – this statement is true in many respects, but none more so when getting to grips with the dynamics of growth in Asia. Even while intentionally circumventing the vast nation, its influence on the rest of Asia is unavoidably loud and clear.

Research on this subject led to a number of terms, which babbled to the surface, from Asset Bubbles and the Balassa-Samuelson effect, to Nominal Exchange Rates and Wage Inflation – all in their own right, interesting and insightful, but frankly superfluous.

This essay does not aim to add itself to the existing hoard of articles which walk us through the economics of growth; rather, it is here to provoke an answer to how this (acknowledged) growth impacts marketers and business leaders alike. What do their actions tell us about their success? Moreover, isn’t success relative? What does this mean in both the short and long term?
Let me begin by providing you with a contrasting analysis of Asia – a dichotomy of mind-sets, if you will. Take China and Hong Kong, although connected through people, their approach to business (and for that matter, the economy) is quite different.

China is often described as a long-term thinker – a number of articles cite discussions with government officials who think and plan in decades, even centuries. Whether this be economy, people or politics, it’s clear that it’s all in a long term context – for example, the official stance on the global slowdown and its impact is, that it was all carefully considered and planned for; China shifted its reliance on foreign to domestic income, just in time to dodge the bullet. However you view this, there is an undertone of truth to this thinking.

Can the same be said for business in China? Research says, ‘not always’. A number of highly visible product recalls has had a long term impact to how China is seen globally and it’s going to have an uphill challenge shaking the quality control stigma, which no doubt arose from short term thinking, not ignorance alone. The driver for many of these issues is more often than not, the short term buck.
Personal observations in Hong Kong also allude to shorttermism.

If you have ever been lucky enough to spend some time in Hong Kong, you’ll never be short of new stores, restaurants, bars or real estate agents to visit. The rate of churn is astonishing. In hot areas, it’s not improbable to visit a new restaurant which succeeds (I use this word cautiously) another every single month.

You’d think then, that survival and success demands service and quality exceeding that of respective competitors – you’d be wrong.

Gimmicks, together with a huge and concentrated population drive success (again I use this word very cautiously) for most businesses in Hong Kong. Enough demand can be generated from gimmicks and fads (Taiwanese Milk Tea and Frozen Yoghurt outlets come to mind) from the populous such that new customers can be turned over every single day. In some instances, this is sustainable for a few months – maybe even to a year. But in time, saturation comes. And due to a lack of forethought (and a focus on the short term buck), more often than not there is no queue of loyal customers waiting around the corner to help sustain the business long term - ultimately bringing the business prematurely to the end of its lifecycle.

One should be careful to not tar everyone with the same brush though. In fact, what we would consider as developed economies, are also guilty of short term thinking, many consider short term thinking as the root cause to the global slowdown. And, in the case of the China quality stigma, we only need to look back a few decades to American autos to remind ourselves that the rest of the world is also guilty of gunning for profits over long term sustainability.
Digital may often be abused to support this short term buck view, since it can deliver significant volumes in relatively short timeframes. It is important however, that within these volumes, valuable relationships are distinguished and nurtured from the masses, so as to establish and build brand trust and loyalty in order to support a lasting business.

So how do we sustain business such that we see queues forming around the digital block well into the future?  The answer, we suggest, lies in the abundance of data available to those businesses, using it to develop and deliver programs which build valued relationships, taking a focus on quality over quantity (in balance). This strategic investment ultimately pays back. The continuous measurement and performance optimisation of these programs is also an integral success factor to building future and sustained value with customers. 

This is a cultural, psychological shift, for marketers who bask in their current, but relative success.

When tough times roll on, those with an established culture for optimising performance will emerge successful in tougher times. Growing alone is conversely different to growing more rapidly than your competitors, with a view to long term sustainability.

Christopher Brewer is Regional Services & Solutions Director at MRM Worldwide, Hong Kong, responsible for overseeing, delivering and shaping high impact and innovative services, products and solutions which encompass data, analytics, measurement and optimsation to drive unparalleled business and marketing performance alongside leading marketing strategies to a range of clients, from start-up to fortune 500.

Should you expect measurable results from digital brand advertising?

3. November 2011 14:14 by MRM Worldwide in   //  Tags:   //   Comments (0)

There is much hub-bub at conferences, as well as rich information circulating about behavioral targeting, data buying, attribution modeling, ad exchanges and other digital direct-response marketing game-changers.  We continuously and aggressively test new technologies and techniques, which generate immediately visible results. As an industry, we get better at direct-response advertising every day.

In contrast, news about digital brand-building programs consists of short, sensational blurbs; focusing on execution vs. performance.  Even in award show submissions, brand-building cases do not sufficiently prove an increase in awareness or change in perception; instead, citing reach data or anecdotal buzz as a weak indication of progress made. Without accurate, meaningful metrics, we cannot pinpoint what works and what does not, so programs do not evolve and improve.

As brand campaigns are developed, there is far too much emphasis placed on audience reach, used as a proxy for impact, while there is too little discussion about actual impact. As a result, many digital media plans resemble television plans (portal placements delivering tonnage) or print plans (contextual targeting), with some uniquely-digital flashiness (a “crazy” ad). Even the vernacular is scarily old-school: “spot plans”, “air date”, et al. Far more sophisticated and effective targeting techniques exist via digital platforms, but until metrics support the use of them, watered-down plans that adhere to old best practices will prevail.  

This poses a significant danger to marketers. Even as direct-response efforts appear to continue to improve, giving the false impression that business is great, the pool from which interested prospects are drawn may be diminishing. The continued success of the direct-response efforts, and business overall, relies on brand-building efforts to replenish that pool.

The use of the phrase “performance marketing” to refer solely to direct-response advertising irks me. It downplays the role of brand-building efforts in delivering business results. The exclusion may be symptomatic of the problem that few marketers properly measure campaigns’ impact on awareness and perceptions of brands. However, it also perpetuates the problem by alleviating the pressure to deliver results.

As direct-response planners feel immense pressure to perform, brand planners are spoiled in comparison; benefitting from general acceptance that brand initiatives are hard to measure and probably perform satisfactorily, as long as the approach is logical. Brand advertising must be held to a greater standard of accountability. Not only should brand advertising be viewed under the umbrella of “performance marketing”, but should be planned, measured and optimized with the same rigor as direct-response advertising.

The solution starts with expanding our view of “performance marketing” to encompass all marketing and signify increased accountability. In the same way that a direct response planner envisions and architects communications scenarios that will achieve a specific cost-per-action, cost-per-sale or return-on-investment, brand advertising planners should carefully develop plans to achieve efficient increases in awareness and changes in perception.

To get there, planners first need to have a thorough understanding of what is required to convert a potential buyer from unaware to aware, from reluctant to interested, from disbelieving to believing. Old best practices may no longer apply, as consumers’ preferences about how they would like to engage with brands and how they make decisions are changing. Relevant, actionable insights can only come from significant and continued experience measuring the impact of variables (environment, ad format, message, frequency, et al.) and combinations of them, on brand objectives.

Measurement solutions for branding initiatives have long-existed and are becoming easier to deploy. Data gathering and analysis periods have been reduced, so that findings are actionable within the campaign period. Publishers are becoming more familiar with implementation requirements. The flat fee associated with measuring impact on brand metrics is often perceived as high, but is almost always lower than direct-response measurement solutions, which are often built in as a percent of ad spend and are seldom questioned. Survey development is labor-intensive and requires input from multiple parties, but all of these seem like minor issues when you consider the alternative; the cost of not knowing what works and what does not work.

By applying proper measurement strategies, tracking contributions back to unique combinations of variables, and calculating efficiency, planners will be able to project the results of various marketing opportunities. They can optimize within a current plan, scale the plan to include similar opportunities and identify new opportunities to test.  Sound familiar? By adopting a process that is similar to direct-response, branding effectiveness will increase; filling the pool that feeds the direct-response programs on which businesses (seem to) thrive.


Kate Clough is Regional Media Director serving MRM for over 10 years. After spending nearly 7 years at MRM Minneapolis (USA), co-managing a team that led all digital strategy development and execution for 40+ General Mills brands, MRM indulged her desire to seek new challenges abroad. In February 2008, she moved to Shanghai; tasked with strengthening and expanding MRM’s digital media operations in China. In April 2009, she moved down to Hong Kong to build the APAC regional media center of excellence. During that time, MRM AP’s media staff, services, coverage and client base have significantly grown, and today, their efforts (display, paid search, SEO, et al.) contribute significantly to a diverse portfolio of regional and global clients’ businesses.



Are agencies and clients getting along?

28. October 2011 11:16 by MRM Worldwide in   //  Tags:   //   Comments (0)

Five years ago, when I arrived in Asia, the digital marketing scene was still very much in its infancy: Facebook was a two year old, fast growing toddler, with 12 million users. Twitter was a new born, and the iPhone a mere twinkle in the eye of designer John Ive. Nevertheless in that same year, a report by IBM commented that the advertising industry was poised to change more over the next five years than it had over the previous fifty. Five years on and a quick glance at some of the topics and themes of MRM’s ‘Clarity & Vision’ series amply demonstrates this point. New and hybrid terms, such as “Creative Technologists”, “Social CRM” and “Marketing Anthropologists” weren’t part of the marketing vernacular in 2006 - much less a part of a client’s marketing budget or a designation on an agency’s org chart.

It’s clear that the most fundamental change over the past 5 years isn’t just the advent of different marketing services but that a) change is a constant, and b) that solutions, like ideas, are constantly cross-fertilizing to create entirely new solutions which require new skills.

What’s been particularly interesting to me, and a frequent point of discussion with my clients and colleagues, isn’t just about the application of these solutions to our clients’ brands, but also how to manage the challenges this complexity creates at an organizational design level (and here, I’m referring to both client and agency organizations). After all, it’s not just the solutions which are changing, but also the way in which these solutions are designed, priced, implemented and optimized.

To try and get a better understanding of these challenges, I recently conducted some research as part of an MBA paper. The purpose of the research was to better understand trends within client-agency relationships and to provide some insight on a couple of key questions: What expectations did clients have of their agencies? Given the proliferation of disciplines and skill sets, what agency attributes did clients value most? And what kind of agency or agencies were clients looking for - a single, trusted lead agency or a pick and mix of collaborative partners?

I sent a survey to 4,150 client advertisers and 4,500 agency personnel, drawn from creative, media, digital and PR agencies, across the Asia Pacific region. Almost 600 people were kind enough to respond. So, in about as many words (and as a belated thank you to those who responded) I wanted to share three of the most salient points from this survey along with my own personal reflections on what this means for agencies and clients alike.
(I warn you that if you’re from an agency, the findings don’t always make for particularly pleasant reading.)

Agency digital expertise is either too narrow or too shallow.
Firstly, all is not well it seems when it comes to the perception of agencies within the digital space. 93% of clients agreed that “there are too many advertising agencies claiming to do digital. Few of them have the sufficient depth of expertise to be credible”. Of over 30 provocative statements, this one achieved by far and away the highest level of consensus. And, in case you think this is just another article about the demise of the traditional advertising agency (it isn’t!), I should also mention that digital agencies fared little better. “There are far too many digital agencies with far too few resources” had the second highest level of consensus at 84%.

The importance of execution.
Clients were asked to rate the importance of over 20 different attributes in selecting and keeping an agency for their digital scope of work. Topping the charts was an agency’s ability to demonstrate a good understanding of consumers and their online behaviour. No enormous surprises there. On the flip side, an agency’s ability to win awards was rated as the least important attribute (with a score almost exactly half that of the highest ranked attribute). But perhaps most surprising of all, for an industry which prides itself on its innovation, was the level of importance placed on execution. The attribute “They are able to execute digital well. They can walk the talk” was ranked as the 4th single most important attribute. Higher even than the ability to come up with “innovative ideas that meet the brief”.

These findings were interesting for two reasons, I felt. Firstly, I think the emphasis on executional excellence is a reaction to the disenchantment with the multi-national agencies’ superficial investments in the then new media a few years ago. The solution to technology, it seemed, was to add a lone ‘guru’ to the creative or planning department and expect instant digital adoption throughout the organization. In short, agencies didn’t recognize the scale of the organizational challenge brought about by the new disruptive technologies and didn’t sufficiently invest ahead of the curve.

Secondly, the findings also suggest some limitations in the client’s own preferred process for agency selection – the pitch. An agency’s executional capabilities are precisely the sort of attribute which can’t be effectively measured within the constraints of the pitch. Over the next 5 years, perhaps we need a new tool and new vocabulary for this increasingly outdated practice, particularly, as we shall see, if client-agency relationships are to become more numerous and promiscuous.

Lipstick on your collar.
Agencies will need to work hard to maintain the status of a monogamous client relationship, (83% of clients agreed with the statement that ‘today’s fragmented media landscape means that advertisers need multiple media and creative agencies’).

However, when working with an ecosystem of partners, clients were far from clear as to who should be responsible for driving integration and collaboration amongst the various agencies. Almost exactly the same number of clients agreed with both of the following statements “I need one agency to provide leadership across all media platforms and across all agency relationships” and “we don’t need a lead agency. Instead, we (the client) should lead the integration process ourselves, utilizing different agency partners according to their specific areas of expertise”.

The fact that these rates were 74% and 73% respectively suggest that almost half of the clients must have agreed with both statements about integration and organizational design. Unlike much of our marketing vernacular, integration is one term that has been with us since the dark ages. However, even now, the survey suggests that clients still aren’t necessarily clear that the act of integrating requires organizational design and a clear sense of accountability.

To conclude, the advent of constantly changing marketing solutions for a constantly changing media landscape has ramifications which extend far beyond the simple question of “What solutions do I need for my brand?” After all, it’s not just the solutions which are changing, but the way in which these solutions are designed, priced, implemented, optimized and integrated within a coherent marketing strategy. As well as helping to manage the outputs, agencies, I’d argue, also need to help clients design a collaborative framework of services and partners which can work well together.

Nick Handel is Managing Director at MRM Worldwide, Singapore.

Nick has over 15 years of agency experience gained from some of the leading agencies in the UK, New Zealand and Singapore. 

In that time he has been a board account director at advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, London, and the managing director of 3 successful direct and digital agencies: Lavender (New Zealand) which he launched and established as the leading independent direct agency; Arc Worldwide (Singapore) which was recognized as the most awarded digital agency in Asia Pacific and where he also ran the digital practice for Leo Burnett & Arc Worldwide across Asia Pacific; and more recently, MRM Worldwide (Singapore), where he currently leads a team of over 20 digital and data-driven specialists.

Whilst he has worked across all discipline and categories, he has a particular specialism for developing digital and CRM solutions for financial services (clients have included UOB, Visa, Westpac, Lloyds TSB & HFC Bank), FMCG (working for the likes of P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever) and consumer electronics (for HP, Intel, Sony and Samsung).

In addition to his current duties, Nick also plays a key role in the marketing industry of Singapore and Asia Pacific.  He has been an advisory board member of Ad: Tech Singapore, the iMedia Agency & Brand Summits and the Chairman of the Agency Council of New Zealand. He holds a diploma in direct and digital marketing from the IDM, an MBA from Imperial College, London and an MA from Edinburgh University.


How do we tackle the symptoms of ‘big data’?

21. October 2011 15:52 by MRM Worldwide in   //  Tags:   //   Comments (0)

As a by-product of the pathogenic uptake of emerging and differing technologies across the global marketplace, businesses and customers together create and consume colossal amounts of digital information on a daily basis. Retail giant Wal-Mart manages 1M customer transactions every hour feeding databases estimated to be larger than 2.5 petabytes. Enterprise data such as this is predicted to grow 650% over the next 5 years alone [Gartner]. IDC states that the world’s volume of data doubles every 18 months! In the heavy task of quenching the consumers thirst for information Google is required to process in excess of 12 petabytes of data every single day - equivalent to 6 billion floppy discs!

Managed well, all of this data can be used to identify sources of economic value, trends and insights that can ultimately drive decision-making that optimises the performance of marketing efforts. Managed badly and it can simply lead to asphyxiation by data and cognitive overload where many employees, especially C-Level executives, find themselves distracted and confused by too many streams of information.

There is generally no dispute in the value this information has the potential to bring to small and large businesses alike if managed well. The problem is it generally isn’t.  In 2010, a survey commissioned by Avanade discovered that despite the majority of respondents believing information will fundamentally change their business; only a minority view their company data as a strategic differentiator. Clearly this needs to change. Large organisations lost in their data haze are losing out on the increasing value big data can create.

So how do we make sense of it all? How do we navigate our way through the cacophony of digital noise and data smog to a point where we can realise the huge potential benefits awaiting us from effective data management?

One must adopt an approach that is universal in covering both the essential steps required in taking control of one’s data through to how to effectively use it to drive performance. The framework of an effective data lifecycle can be broken down into 7 steps;

  • IDENTIFY – Large Enterprise organisations tend to have customer data fragmented across many disparate systems. Identify what customer data and potential prospect information exists and where.
  • CONSOLIDATE - Organise your data sources with the objective of creating a scalable singular customer view.  The single customer view will be one of the most powerful insights you can drive from your customer base enabling you to execute the most targeted, relevant and personalised content. Aggregating new data sources into this existing view is also important as and when new information is made available.
  • FILTER - Determine what information is useful and filter out what is not. Getting stuck in the weeds to the point that you can’t see the woods for the trees is simply prohibitive to achieving your objectives. Less is always more providing the less can be successfully converted into actionable business decisions.
  • SET OBJECTIVES - Driving value from that data (now that you have it under control), can be achieved by first having a clear set of metrics and KPIs in which to govern the performance of your marketing efforts. Try to keep your KPIs to a manageable number and focus only on the capture, analysis and utilisation of the data essential for supporting these.
  • SEGMENT & TARGET - Not everyone is the same and not everyone wants or deserves to be treated the same. Segment your data effectively and differentiate across the different audiences through relevant content, vehicles and channels whilst also being mindful of the frequency in which you reach out to your audience. This will lead to greater value creation in both current and potential value categories driving sales, loyalty, a stronger sense of brand engagement and customer satisfaction.
  • MEASURE – You can’t manage what you can’t measure so, with your business objectives in mind, along with a supporting metrics and KPI plan to act as indicator of your performance and as a driver for improvement, design a clean testing environment that offers a statistically significant foundation for meaningful analysis.
  • OPTIMISE – Overall business must evolve from data analysis to insights. Insights are only valuable when they can be converted into applicable business action. Testing and measurement will help you find the appropriate contact strategy required to optimize your marketing effort. Success in defining an optimized contact strategy comes from striking the right balance across a fixed number of variables such as content, audience segment, media, vehicle, frequency, offers and incentives.

Make no mistake; data is fast becoming the new raw material of business, the successful use of which will be a key basis of competition and growth for all firms regardless of size. Getting our hands around big data will lead us to a more in depth understanding of our customers and the market place in which we operate. The knowledge we leverage will enable stronger and more effective management decisions which in turn will optimise marketing performance, reducing waste (time, people, and budget) while also acting as a catalyst to innovation and the future of each and every company that manages it effectively.

Jon Mackay is Regional Business Director for performance marketing at MRM. Jon started his marketing career 12 years ago in Spain focusing on mobile marketing solutions before moving to MRM in London to lead the Microsoft CRM engagement. For the last 4 years Jon has been based in Hong Kong and is currently responsible  for leading the Dell Asia Pacific engagement , driving  performance capabilities across the MRM and the McCann Worldgroup network whilst also sitting  on the MRM Worldwide performance steering committee for global strategy & analytics.


What is community management and why should you bother with it?

13. October 2011 19:04 by MRM Worldwide in   //  Tags:   //   Comments (0)

Community management is one of the biggest buzz topics among marketers this year and it will undoubtedly remain so in 2012.

Now think about it for a moment. When television viewership, newspaper & magazine readership and radio listenership grew over time, brands naturally wanted to be where their consumers were, hence that’s why they place theirs advertisements in those media. In the same way, as the digital medium took off, so did online advertising.

As we all know, today’s consumers are more connected than ever and ‘always on’.  What’s more, these consumers are now gathered within digital networks. They are following, or being followed, in micro-blogs such as Twitter, contributing to forums and blogs or part of an active social network such as the Facebook. Top brand websites are now losing both reach and engagement with their audience; social web platforms are now their choice destinations.

Similar to what happened with advertising, brands want and need to be present in this media as well. But the savvier marketers know that even advertising within highly popular and active social platforms is not enough - brands need to create bonds with their consumers. In doing so, they have to fish where the fish are.

This means brands do not only need to just have a branded presence within these social web platforms – today, brands need to humanize and be more focused on how they can and should behave. They also need to find relevant social content and contexts that resonate with their target audiences - an intersection which brands can own and contextually resonate.

So… what is the role of community management in all of this?  

Community management is like a gateway that allows a brand, and its communications, to become more integrated in their audience’s environments or lives.  It creates different levels of engagement and collaboration where the fostering of relationships is one of the main objectives allowing the brand to behave and personify - effectively resonating and becoming relevant with its audience.

From a communication perspective, paid advertisements create the traditional building of attention and interest, allowing our audience to be connected with engagement programs that are designed to be community-ready. In the longer run, the objective of marketing communications is to lead our audience into an environment where there is an exchange of value (social currency).

Community manager/s are the main conduit between a brand owned community and nearly everything else out there. I’d like to think of a community manager as an orchestra conductor. In the world of social engagement, their stage and each music instrument used, are like different engagement tactics which could be brand-driven, ‘like’ (acquisition) driven, random rewards and so on.  

Another good analogy for a community manager is a Swiss army knife on steroids, a jack-of-all-trades and yet, a master of many. The community manager can also be seen to have the traits of the following:

•    An anthropologist: Someone who can observe over time and understand how different sets of audience tick. What will motivate them? How can we get them to move better as a tribe or group?

•    A B.A.S.E. Builder: I’m taking this from the term BASE Jumper where B = Buildings, A = Antennae, S = Spans (Bridges) and E = Earth (Cliffs). Our audience will exist across various social web platforms with different degrees of engagement comfort levels, and also, some with different degrees of influence. Now, how can the community manager leverage on them and more importantly, connect them back to the brand and the community?

•    A Diplomat: The community manager cannot come across as a hard-seller of the brand. Our audiences are in the community for various reasons. The community manager must direct the content and conversation towards goals that are common to the brand and the community. In some ways, equitableness or equality traded between brands and our audience will be part of the whole exchange within the community. Some of this will come across as structured and random, the community manager will have to ensure there is that balance where expectations are managed with the right unexpected pleasant surprises that will create ‘talkability’ towards the good of the brand and our audience.

•    A Movie-set Director:  Someone who can put all of the above together, mix it up to create a theme, a plot, a story at times, a flow that is exciting, not just a cadence that is like a non stop rollercoaster ride which can sap all the energy out of the community and tire a participant out but who can build the right mood for the right occasion that is streamlined with the overall brand and marketing strategy.

That all seems like a lot of work! So why should the savvier brands bother with community management? Well, the circles within communities found in social networks are getting wiser and tighter. The cost for brands to be within that circle will get higher; the learning curves steeper; and path to effectiveness harder. Brands that are in the space today are already bonding with their customers, creating a value that is beyond just the product or service they sell – competing brands that are still sitting on the fence observing and waiting will find the barriers to the entry of communities a lot higher and costlier.

The time to act is now!


Nik Ong is Digital Strategist at MRM. Nikolaus started out his career in as a Financial Accountant and got his illustrious start when he decided to move into the the Digital & Integrated Marketing business and has never looked back since.

As a seasoned marketer with a passion for strategic marketing leadership, serving international brands for more than 14 years, covering the Asia Pacific region, he brings with him a sound knowledge Digital Communications (including the Social Web) and that has translated into strategic marketing programs across several markets across Asia Pacific.


Should creatives be creative whatever the medium?

4. October 2011 22:10 by MRM Worldwide in   //  Tags:   //   Comments (0)

Have the fundamentals of design changed so much with digital, that designers must stick to just one discipline, and if so, how does this affect the so-called "integrated" agency thinking?

Over the years I have interviewed and worked with many different designers whose combined skills span a huge spectrum of different talents. However, more recently, as digital has taken more of a stronghold in the design arena, we seem to be losing track of the fundamentals of creativity and focusing way too much on the technology.

As digital Agencies strive to become more integrated it is becoming increasingly more challenging to work out who sits where and does what. Knowledge of certain software applications sometimes plays a part in how designers are "branded" (such as flash designer etc.…) so the fine line between production and design is growing thinner all the time.

The modern digital designer needs to be a jack-of-all-trades. The best digital designers are those who know a lot about all technologies, have remained fundamentally creative and come from a creative background.  These hard-to-find people are finding themselves in big demand as more and more agencies are demanding “creative technologists”.

As a digital creative, keeping up-to-date with the latest trends in technology is imperative in this day and age. For example, if a designer did not know that QR codes can trigger SMS messages or that laptop cameras can pickup hand gestures through flash, they would never include these examples in their creative thinking.

Digital design is very different to traditional design. In the past, designers would focus purely on their chosen area of expertise, be it packaging, graphic or fashion design or even architecture. Each trade has its own set of technical skills to master, but none of them is changing as fast or as frequently as digital. Digital designers are expected to design for a huge range of platforms and technologies, and the list changes daily. One of the most challenging is social which has its own entirely new set of rules.

Being Jack-of-all-trades has always been a somewhat negative term, but in today's digitally driven industry, the modern designer needs to have a holistic approach to creativity and be constantly evolving to incorporate today’s technology with fresh ideas.

Today’s clients demand fully integrated campaigns, which mean that digital is no longer an “after thought”. Digital teams must be part of the initial client briefings so they can work on fully integrated ideas. In a recent creative garage session hosted by Facebook here in Singapore, we worked on creating campaigns that were “social by design” this is an example of how digital ideas can support or at times even lead a whole campaign.

At the top of the level is the truly integrated agency designer. These individuals manage to work across the board, bridging the gap between traditional media and digital. Their unique set of skills and experience gives them the opportunity to see the big picture and create truly integrated and engaging experiences.

Most Agencies should really be pushing for an integrated design experience for their clients, so taking a step back and looking at things from a purely creative viewpoint is a good way to start. Designers should be creative regardless of the medium, and the best ones can do this across all channels.



Nic Brennan is Executive Creative Director at MRM Singapore.
Nic Studied Typography before moving to London to work for Pauffley, where he started life as a typographic designer working on Annual Reports for companies including British Telecom, Cadbury Schweppes and Novartis.

In 1997 he moved to Tokyo to join a fast-growing design firm called PANACHE where his role was to build an Interactive Design Department. The team grew quickly and soon became responsible for the web presence of adidas, Audi, Bentley, Club Med, VW Japan and many more.

In 2006 Nic decided to create his own studio in Japan, and FLUID was born. Along with its direct clients, FLUID has partnered with most of the Agencies in Japan working on digital content for a huge variety of clients some of whom include Avaya, Citigroup, Coach, Dyson, Gillette, Toyota etc…  Nic has a passion Typography and a love for all things Digital.


How do we give slow-moving publishers a (friendly) shove?

29. September 2011 14:12 by MRM Worldwide in   //  Tags:   //   Comments (0)

As marketers increasingly demand greater accountability, publishers and agencies that explore more complex and creative, results-focused partnerships will be the most likely to thrive. Those who fail to deliver results, and more specifically, deliver results that are backed by performance-based pricing  (e.g., cost-per-click, cost-per-acquisition) agreements, will likely fall from favor. This article explores the trend’s development, addresses publisher concerns and provides guidelines for initiating a test-and-scale approach, in order to encourage evolution and improve business results for all parties.

Performance-based pricing gives advertisers the ability to purchase a desired outcome, rather than exposure to an audience. This is irresistibly attractive, especially in challenging economic times, as exemplified by the decreased use of the CPM (48% to 33%) and increased use of performance-based or hybrid pricing (52% to 67%) in the US, from 2006 to 2010*.

By embracing this trend, publishers revived banner ad sales, which had been waning due to perception that they could not produce an immediate result with the efficiency of search and were best used for long-term brand-building. In fact, in the US, banner ad revenues grew by 23.1% from 2009 to 2010 after growing by only 3.8%, 2008 to 2009**, largely credited to adoption of performance-based pricing models. 2010.

In Asia, search marketing spends are increasing, ad networks are expanding their reach and ad exchanges, offering greater transparency and auction-based pricing, are rolling out across the region. As advertisers’ familiarity with these options increases, so will their expectation of accountability from all publishers. Despite this, many publishers continue to resist performance-based pricing and exclusively employ pricing models (cost-per-impression, cost-per-day) that deliver a predictable, fixed income.

The greatest source of publisher concern is performance uncertainty; the inability to accurately predict how many impressions it will “cost” to deliver an outcome. To overcome this hurdle, advertisers should share representative creative, demonstrate the user experience, disclose the location of tracking pixels and provide a clear definition of the desired action, for which the advertiser will pay. The publisher can apply knowledge of audience response-rates for similar campaigns on their site, back out the number of impressions required to elicit an action and price accordingly. However, humans (and other factors) are unpredictable and projections may be “off”, so the inclusion of a mutual 48-hour out clause offers further protection; protecting the publisher from delivering too many non-converting impressions and the advertiser from tying up budgets that could be applied elsewhere.

While both parties want maximum flexibility in order to minimize risk, the test must produce results that are meaningful and actionable. Therefore, the minimum pilot duration, during which the out clause cannot be enforced, should be long enough to give the publisher time to diligently analyze and optimize performance. The investment should be just enough to produce enough data, following a significant amount of optimization, to be statistically significant and indicative of future performance. We usually accomplish this in just a few weeks, by running media at very light weight that increases toward the end of the period.

To avoid ambiguity, formally document all details of the test. Define the desired action, single source of data to be referenced and data-sharing method and frequency. Try to anticipate all possible questions. For example, will the advertiser share all activity data or only end-action data? Will the publisher be compensated only for immediate activity or also for latent activity? If the latter, what is the look-back window?

The concept of accountability may be new to some publishers and they may have little experience with data analysis and optimization. If a publisher shows significant potential in other areas, the advertiser might provide support in filtering data (e.g., creative execution, size, placement, time of day, day of week, geography) and suggesting adjustments. In all cases, the advertiser should share a reporting-only login for the (ideally third party) tracking platform and/or arrange for automated reports to be sent to the partner at their preferred frequency.

This degree of involvement may seem inefficient, but the bulk of the effort takes place during the initial negotiation, short pilot period, subsequent data analysis and adjustment to pricing. A successful pilot can quickly scale into an agreement that is capped only by the publisher’s ability to deliver incremental impact.

For example, years ago, we were approached by a publisher that reached a highly specific audience at the perfect window for considering our client’s product. We suggested a limited pilot (duration, activity, spend) during which we would pay $6 USD for a completed transaction, a competitive rate at the time.

Following the pilot, they determined that this arrangement was lucrative and we continued to purchase as many leads as they could deliver. Over time, as we replicated this test-and-scale approach with many more partners, $6 was no longer competitive. We re-negotiated to $5.50 and then $5, our current rate, which is still lucrative for them.

Though they are no longer our most efficient partner and we are probably not their most profitable advertiser, the relationship is continued because of the volume delivered and the operational efficiency on both sides. The creative seldom changes, due to high audience turnover (i.e., no creative wear-out) and the placement that we own reaches all relevant traffic.

Someday soon, most publishers in Asia will offer performance-based pricing like this; made more viable through significant technology upgrades, which automate optimization, inventory management and pricing. For those of us who are restless, this test-and-scale approach can help move the process along; increasing revenue and operational efficiency for all involved.

*Source: Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), *IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report: 2010 Full-Year Results, Slide 19, April 13, 2011
**Source: Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), *IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report: 2010 Full-Year Results, Slide 13, April 13, 2011.


Kate Clough is Regional Media Director serving MRM for over 10 years. After spending nearly 7 years at MRM Minneapolis (USA), co-managing a team that led all digital strategy development and execution for 40+ General Mills brands, MRM indulged her desire to seek new challenges abroad. In February 2008, she moved to Shanghai; tasked with strengthening and expanding MRM’s digital media operations in China. In April 2009, she moved down to Hong Kong to build the APAC regional media center of excellence. During that time, MRM AP’s media staff, services, coverage and client base have significantly grown, and today, their efforts (display, paid search, SEO, et al.) contribute significantly to a diverse portfolio of regional and global clients’ businesses.



Trying to build a profitable customer relationship?

22. September 2011 22:03 by MRM Worldwide in   //  Tags: , , , , ,   //   Comments (0)

What about a Tracking Platform?

In a close future, the relationship between brand and customer will be based on the exchange of utility and loyalty: brand missions will be focused on helping us to get a better life and we’ll pay back by being loyal and buying. To establish such a relationship, the brand has to be a constant yet discrete presence in consumers’ lives, lying on the background of our existences and ready to help us whenever we need it.

Tracking technologies are a powerful tool to ensure that this regular brand presence isn’t intrusive but delivers concrete value to customers. Usually these kinds of technologies use smartphones or other specific devices to get data from user’s actions and behaviors.

For instance technologies are being developed to help people self-monitor their health from any location, tracking and delivering basic biometric data and performance statistics. Apps are taking advantage of accelerometers cameras and GPS in mobile phones or of external sensors that transmit data, to provide real-time, personalized feedback to individuals that they can then use to monitor their health status or share with their healthcare providers and families. When associated with action, this information can help people lead healthier lifestyles.

So, let’s say that a food and nutrition company is seeking to communicate health benefits for its products.  There is a smarter option than spending millions for a TVC that shows a happy healthy family eating around a table covered with branded food. Wouldn’t it be a stronger message, and wouldn’t it be a better way to build a lasting brand/customer relationship, if the brand assisted and provided users with an ecosystem that actually improve their health?

Apps that help track, visualize and improve users’ workouts could be integrated with technologies that provide on-the-go nutrition information (based on bar codes scan or image recognition), to optimize the balance between calories absorption and exercise. An extended and intelligent wellness platform could also track user routines, locations and schedules in order to predict meals and provide useful tips. For example recommending the right restaurant and food for the specific event and location, taking into consideration user taste, health, previous restaurants check-ins, his latest meals nutrition facts and his workout activity.

Wellness tracking gadgets could complete the ecosystem. Like an internet-enabled scale that wirelessly transmits weight measurements to computers or to mobile devices, creating a visual history of individual weight over time. By receiving feedback about their progress, users can get a better understanding of their weight and make adjustments to their diet and fitness accordingly.

From the brand stand point, to provide consumers with such a platform, means to maximize users perception of the brand experience as useful to improve their life quality, which leads to brand loyalty and therefore to purchases: basically the essence of any profitable customer relationship.



Nick Landucci has  a mixed engineering and design education background that allows him to marry technology and creativity in order to drive digital innovation.

Prior the creative technology leadership for MRM in Shanghai, Nick has worked in Milan and New York City.

Originally from Italy, Nick began his advertising career in Milan some 14 years ago as Digital Art Director at D’Arcy, where he worked on accounts as Ikea, Burger King and P&G.

In 2001 Nick joined Oot (a WPP associated digital boutique) as Creative Director. Here he worked on accounts as diverse as Replay, Telecom, Miss Sixty, Microsoft, San Pellegrino and Ducati.

In 2005 Nick moved to New York City where he worked as Creative Director for agencies as CCG Metamedia and Quicksilver. In NY he worked on accounts as Pfizer, Merck, Astrazeneca, BMS, Bausch and Lomb and Redken, to name a few.

Nick believes that technology is the new creativity for modern marketing and his specialty is to leverage the latest technological platforms together with design to drive innovative solutions for clients across the globe.



How can Facebook act as a business enabler?

16. September 2011 00:15 by MRM Worldwide in   //  Tags: , , , , , , ,   //   Comments (0)

Facebook is by far and away one of the biggest phenomena to have hit the internet. Its total number of users is close to three quarters of a billion, and it’s only a matter of time before its users hit the one billion mark. With the massive number of users, it’s not surprising that brands and business are now jumping onto the bandwagon -- they are creating their own fanpages and are in a frenzy of investing in applications and games to acquire fans and create their fan base.

While Facebook has already been used by many for social communication, there are not yet many brands and businesses who have used it well as a marketing or a business tool. Businesses should understand that Facebook is an excellent marketing platform on two counts: one is that it allows any business to keep tabs with its customers or target customers and interact with them, engaging them through conversations or through any activity using an app. Second is that it is a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool and media channel in one vehicle – finally here’s a broadcast outlet that effectively allows a brand to communicate individually with each one of their customers.

But the best thing is, it’s not one-way communications - brands can use Facebook to have a dialogue – they can conduct quick market research through polls, gain consumer and brand insights by asking questions on their wall. And this is the important difference – one should remember that it is useless creating a Facebook page if a brand or business does not interact with the resultant fans. 

And here, as ever, it’s all about offering the right thing to the right person at the right time.  Regardless if the brand has 5,000 fans or 50,000 fans, Facebook is all about relevance. Facebook’s algorithm, called the Edgerank Algorithm, tells us that the most prized “wall” determines its content based on the relevance of the people towards the particular person (or brand). If for example, one has 1,000 friends, whenever one loads their wall, only their relevant friends come out of their wall.

Relevance can be influenced by three dimensions: affinity, interaction, and the time decay factor. Taking each in turn: if you and a person share the same group, or are family for example, then Facebook will hypothesize that you are relevant to each other. If for some reason the group you both belong to has heightened activity, then your friend’s wall post would come out on your wall.

The second dimension is interaction, or what Facebook calls the “edge”. If you like, or comment, or post on their wall. Or if you tag a photo of a particular person, Facebook would assume that you are relevant to that person, and therefore have a higher likelihood of both of your posts appearing on each other’s wall.

Third and finally, there is a time decay factor on all interactions. The longer you do not interact with each other (meaning post or comment or tag), and the longer your common group has no activity, then the higher the likelihood that you will not anymore appear on each other’s wall.

The similar logic applies to a brand’s fanpage. Say that you have for the past 3 months conducted a promotion and amassed 50,000 fans. However, after that, you decided to take a rest and did not do anything for the next three months. When you finally decide to do another activation idea or another promotion -- perhaps deciding to do a shoutout on your wall -- your posts will not appear in the wall of your fans anymore. This is because, according to Facebook, you have ceased to be relevant due to the time decay factor and the loss of interaction.

What should you do then? Basically, to get your fans back, you have to place advertising again inside Facebook, and hopefully, your target audience will click on your ad and go back to your fanpage. Otherwise, you would not be able to get the same level of activity and have to go the long route and activate new ones. That is why it is critical for every branded page to continue the interaction with their fans on their page even after every promotion or engagement.

But what is a good level of interaction and how can one keep it up? You don’t have to create new apps or conduct promotions every time you want to interact with your fans. In fact, simple wall posts and shoutouts are enough as long as your fans interact with you. (Interact means your fans liking or commenting on your posts or picture uploads).

There is such a thing called Interaction Rate on Facebook, where the number of fans determines the number of interactions you need to at least carry on a good fanpage management measure. The rule of thumb is that at minimum, every fanpage should have at least an interaction rate of 0.1%. It means for every 1,000 fans, at least one should comment or like your wall post. Now it gets trickier as the number of fans goes up. 5,000 fans would mean 5 comments or likes, but 50,000 fans would mean at least, in minimum 50 likes or comments, PER POST. This ensures that every post brands make on Facebook, needs to be a quality one. If posts are not liked or commented upon, then it would mean that the post is not relevant at all.

Understanding the Edgerank algorithm allows us to understand Facebook and its advocacy on relevance. Our fanpages need to continue to be relevant to our fans, and this is manifested if they consistently like our posts or commented on them. If not, and if not addressed immediately, the process of fan acquisition would be for naught and the entire cycle will have to be done all over again.

The bottom line – engage your fans and Facebook can work hard for your business.


Dr. Donald Patrick Lim is the Managing Director of MRM Worldwide Philippines, the digital and relationship marketing arm of the global advertising giant McCann Worldgroup. Before McCann, he was the former President and CEO of Yehey! Corporation, one of the Philippines’ top digital marketing holding company, which boasts of having managed the most number of digital marketing campaigns and websites for local and multinational brands. He was also President and CEO of Media Contacts Manila, winner of 2009’s Media Agency of the Year, and a product of a joint venture company between Yehey Corporation and Europe’s largest interactive conglomerate Havas Digital.





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