Start-up of the month : Synthesio describes the 4 types of brands on the web (2/2)

note: this is the continuation of an interview of Synthesio’s Loic Moisand (see part one here). many thanks to Synthesio‘s Michelle Chmielewski for her help with the Englsh version of this post

Major trends in the monitoring market: consolidation and transversal moves

The market has greatly evolved since 2006 and showed signs of maturity in the consolidation actions among various actors. Scoutlabs was bought out by Lithium Technologies, Sysomos by Marketwire. The bought-out companies were easy prey “at the moment of the explosion of social media with the desire of creating true groupings”.

That doesn’t just mean more consolidations, but also more transversal actions with integrations:

  • of social CRM (integration of client relations and social media, one of the most significant trends of 2010)
  • of the press (with press and social media domains becoming more and more intertwined: on the one hand press relations officers are trying to reach information producers that are not connected to the mass media, bloggers in particular, and especially using different methods to transform their press releases into social media releases)

Other actors, including early days French pioneer KBCrawl “have stayed in ‘tool’ mode and haven’t switched to SaaS dashboards” and are being overtaken by swifter players.

brands online reputation: 4 main profiles

I’ve kept the best part for now. 4 years of experience in the field have allowed Synthesio to depict the landscape of online brands in a particularly striking manner; Loic Moisand highlights 4 main types of brands (pictures in the following diagram):

1. “Under-the-radar” brands

These are the brands that…we don’t talk about, or at least not a lot. A little bit like those friends that you invite to a party that don’t show up. There is either no or very little buzz for these brands that are consequently put into a “PR intravenous drip” that could only with hope to revive interest in the brand. In this category we find a jumble of mass-produced products like dishwashing soap and some B2B brands. Here are nonetheless 2 examples of companies that managed to “break the mold” (the best way to revive interest in your brand) :

  • Blendtec with their famous WebTV series “Will it Blend?” that was present at the last MediaAces conference in Paris June 22, 2010 (http://france.media-aces.org)
  • “compare the Market”’s URL was too long and getting too many searches for “compare the meerkat”. Comparethemarket, a sort of “progressive.com” decided to create an online character making fun of people that were typing it wrong in order to create their own buzz.

Not only are there numerous B2B brands fitting into this category that haven’t been able to break the mold, “3/4 of brands fit into this category,” adds Loic Moisand.

Important sidenote : certain brands, depending on the country, their media, and culture, may be “under the radar” here and not somewhere else. The French insurance-comparing site meilleurtaux.com generated high levels of buzz in France but Comparethemarket, the UK equivalent ended up being less successful (hence the need to do things differently)

2. Functional brands

This is another brand category that doesn’t necessarily inspire deep passion but that can generate a large number of comments. It has to do with brands that “we just want to work, and that’s it”. These are the brands that don’t leave you indifferent, but don’t necessarily cry out for your attention, either. In these types of cases the buzz level is  rather high, but focused around the product’s/service’s functions, price, the quality of customer service, etc with levels of dissatisfaction that are often quite elevated. This category includes : e-commerce sites, washing machines, household appliances, mass high-tech goods (except for Apple) and telecommunications operators. The response in this domain has been to have a community manager for their own sites (FAQ, tech support, answering questions) as well as on third-party forums to help web users with a proactive intervention (Orange has actually just taken this step).

3. Brands we love

This segment is – of course – brand nirvana. Unfortunately very few brands are able to be a part of this group, for sometimes irrational reasons. The brands that are able to attain this segment are brands from groups 1 and 2 that have “launched an emotional movement”. Apple, video games (Wii), Sony (only for certain products), Coke, and fashion brands are a few examples of “Brands we love”. They are brands that “take up all the space” and the ones that are always examples, which can almost become slightly irritating at times…They’re incredibly popular, and you can’t do anything about it. They are the brands that knew how to create “a relationship that is more imortant than the product” according to Bernard Cova.

Not everyone can get to this stage. It is full of clans of enthusiasts and brand advocates, where brands don’t need to “create communities” because they already exist, often on their own (Apple doesn’t have one blog and supposedly doesn’t intervene in social media other than to police what’s being said, which no one really seems to find surprising and hasn’t cut down on fan enthusiasm).

The best attitude to have for this group is to accompany communities : answer questions, inform fans, encourage them, occasionally give them gifts to thank them for their loyalty. Blogger clubs are also a phenomenon of this group, which can sometimes lead to large demands. Microsoft – in order to avoid always talking about Apple – organized the launche of Windows 7 at the end of 2009 in its Windows café. All interested bloggers were invited to get a very nice gift – their own complete version of Windows 7 on a DVD just for them. The brand decided not to get involved any further in blog discussions than that. It took a respectful approach of its community, which was the right attitude in this case.

4. Sensitive brands

These are brands that are “stressful” according to Loic Moisand’s terminology. The 3 sectors that are affected the most: health, safety, and children. People are scared in this segment, the brand can be scary, or becmoe a threat; the stress is real and “you have to reassure people”. It’s the only thing that can be done. Admitting you were wrong and showing that you are correcting the problem, even if, when opinion is against you, the attempt is bound to fail. Becoming a “sensitive brand” means risking becoming a disgraced brand. Certain brands will forever be in this category, like pharmaceuticals for example (without exception according to Loic Moisand); but there are other brands that switch from other segments to this danger zone :

  1. banks, since the 2007 crisis, have become scapegoats for the economic problems in the West if you believe their detractors, to the point of having lost sight of their essential economic functions (see the example of Kerviel here)
  2. BP, that has now become a symbol – according to their detractors – for the environmental problems like Total in France after Erika – justified or not
  3. chronically : users with worries – based on facts or not (not up to us to decide) – about electromagnetic waves from WiFi connections, Wimax, telephones, etc (here’s a link towards a show with Etienne Cendrier from the site robin des toits)
  4. food brands criticized for their choice of ingredients or their methods, like Nestlé, for example, that became a Greenpeace target in 2010 for their use of palm oil in chocolate products

A dynamic brand classification

A brand can pass from one segment to another at any moment. Apple did, for example, when a rumor about exploding iPhones spread in 2009, as did Renault with rumors of stuck Vel Saltis gas pedals (2005-2006), and Toyta in 2010 with with their own technical problems, even if the rumors usually disappeared along with the crisis.

I find this classification to be particularly useful as it presents us with a point of view that is different from the classic clichés heard on the web about brands. It also allows for web and PR directors to take a step back in order to decide which direction is the best for their brand.

sidenote: this is an empirical classification and is not a result of a scientific study. It may evolve over time depending on the country and brand’s history. The opinions expressed here about certain brands are the personal opinions of the author and do not reflect a proof of good or bad quality of these brands whatsoever.