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DECEMBER 7, 2017 //     

The Question of Net Neutrality

Photo: Stock.Adobe.comBy: Jordan Fischler


Just over a week from now, the FCC will vote on a proposal put forth by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that would dramatically change the way the Internet is regulated and give ISP’s control over what content its users see and potentially charge more for certain content. Better known as Net Neutrality, the debate has sparked a firestorm pitting Internet companies against telecom giants. It’s heady, somewhat complicated stuff, but it will have great impact over the future of the Internet. Free speech will face off against commercial interests in some intriguing ways.

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Just like our roads, tunnels and bridges are the basic infrastructure connecting our country, the Internet, called the information superhighway for a reason, can also be considered infrastructure.

To continue this analogy, when stuck in traffic you’ll pick the route that gets you to your destination the fastest.

Now, imagine there’s a toll to take that faster lane or route. If it’s a relatively nominal fee, you’ll pay it. As the fee increases, you might consider the pros and cons of sitting in a little bit of traffic and suffering through slower speeds to avoid the charge. Likewise, we move to the fastest lane when possible on the Internet – slow dial-up was replaced by DSL and cable, T1s and so on. Each came at a cost, but the ability to access the information we looked for, no matter the source, always jumped up to the same new speed. As more information becomes available, we crave it. It’s in our nature to learn and to seek the most efficient way to gain knowledge.

That is the crux of the Net Neutrality issue. Net Neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits Internet service providers from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites. It somewhat levels the playing field between startups and established companies hoping to deliver their content to you, the audience, because no matter the source, there is not an added cost – either time or money – to get to the content you want.

Pai, long a proponent of deregulation, believes “under my proposal, the Federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet.” More on his reasoning here and here.

Restricting and narrowing access or providing preferential treatment to certain types of information limits our ability to learn and adds unnecessary roadblocks for small Internet companies to get attention for their new sites. It also adds expenses for consumers and businesses and turns the information superhighway into a toll road.

Though those tolls may be nominal at first, putting the decision-making power in the hands of large corporations that ultimately control the speed means those tolls can go up at any time with minimal notice.

That’s not to say the companies building our Internet infrastructure should give it away for free. They invest company resources to create the access and deserve to profit. But is this proposed change to Net Neutrality being made to benefit the user with better infrastructure or to feed a need for an ever-increasing bottom line?

The FCC is pushing along this decision too quickly without the proper review and involvement by the officials we’ve elected to represent us on such issues. New York Attorney General Eric Schneidermann proposed recently a moratorium on the vote to allow more time for discussion of the issues. There have been many OpEds discussing the topic from both sides. Here are just a few if you’d like to go deeper:

The FCC is still accepting public comment on the issue from individuals and companies. If you’d like to contribute, there are many routes you can take. Here’s one. If you have questions about how this might impact your business let us know, we’d be glad to sit down with you and discuss.

Jordan Fischler is managing director and head of consumer technology at Allison+Partners. 

DECEMBER 6, 2017 //     

FISH OUT OF WATER: VR is more than just entertainment, it's a way to impact consumers

By: Milena Stancati

Kimonos, geishas and shojis were everywhere. Living in traditional Kyoto, Japan, was exactly how I imagined it. Tokyo however, was an entirely different game. It was mostly modern and one of the busiest cities I’ve traveled to along my global journey. After two separate visits in the month, I still need another trip back to see/understand it all.

The city and its neighborhoods were unique, colorful and incredibly electric. When I stumbled upon the VR Park Tokyo, I just had to go in. I’d been to arcades when I was younger, but this place brought “arcade” to a whole new level. In just one location, I could use virtual reality (VR) to bungee jump, fly and fight every villain ever created.

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During my experience, I started thinking about how VR can truly transport a person’s mind and influence their opinions. This is why more and more brands are using this innovative technology in their marketing campaigns. Why not give the consumer a feeling when they see your product, especially if that feeling is triggered by something they can experience without any effort?

VR can engage a consumer and leave a mark that lasts longer than an ad that’s out of sight then instantly out of mind. The way you remember an epic sunset over the city from the rooftop bar or the way your grandfather laughed at Christmas dinner when your six-month-old nephew blew raspberries for the first time -- VR gives you those same “feels.”

According to Forbes, there are several best practices in using VR for marketing that have been established -- and it’s only just the beginning. The product is expensive, however. And while VR headsets haven’t reached the level of ownership that video game systems have, in-store promotions, events and online advertisements have made good use of them. Below are a few brands I think have successfully used VR to impact their consumers and show what they’ve accomplished.

Toms, a California-based nonprofit shoe company that has donated more than 45 million shoes for children in need, has a VR experience for customers who enter their flagship store. I own three pairs myself. Like most people, I’m aware of the good Tom’s does for the world. But it wasn’t until I saw this video, and experienced a virtual giving trip myself, that I could fully understand the impact my three purchases made. Charitable companies like Toms can really benefit from using VR when the purpose of their business is cause marketing and they need their consumers to advocate a specific point of view.

After completing almost four months of travel in Asia, I’ve come to know AirAsia as if it were my own car. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a large percentage of the lesser known Association of Southeast Asian Nations locations. For those not as lucky, the 50-year-old airline put out 360 degrees short VR films that offer a taste of the places you can visit. Being able to experience the destination before you go, helps consumers feel more confident about their purchase.

Delivering the VR experience to consumers has come in different forms. There are VR headsets on the market for purchase, apps like IKEA Place (an Allison+Partners client) that use VR to drive sales and video game apps like Pokémon Go. So what’s next for VR marketing? There is no doubt VR product sales will increase, but I think content marketing will be VR’s biggest marketing strength. It bridges the gap between consumers’ hesitation and conversion, and it opens doors for marketers to be more creative. VR is on the rise and content marketing needs to keep up with it.

Milena Stancati is marketing + business development manager for Allison+Partners who is currently spending one year working, traveling and living in 12 different cities throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

DECEMBER 1, 2017 //     

The Secret to Being a Best Place to Work? Putting People First

By: Scott Allison

Over the years, we’ve been blessed to be recognized for our work for amazing clients. But learning today that we were again named one of PRWeek’s “Best Places to Work” makes me even more proud, as it was based on a survey of our employees. It also validates what Andy Hardie-Brown and I set out to do from the very beginning: create a great company where talented people at all levels could do great work, grow professionally and build a long-term career.

The agency business is not an easy one and we recognize the importance of collaboration with all our colleagues. In a competitive industry, the most important thing we can do is create an environment that is conducive to doing consistently great work.

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Allison+Partners was founded in 2001, and has grown from a 12-person start-up public relations agency to a global integrated marketing communications firm with 29 offices and more than 300 employees worldwide. At the onset, we decided to put our people and culture first, and trusted that everything else would flow from there. Our core values were developed agency-wide from every level of the organization to focus us, and continue to guide our company today:

  • Keep promises and exceed expectations
  • Be passionate and enthusiastic
  • Empower people to reach their full potential
  • Nurture a collaborative environment
  • Be entrepreneurial

We put several things in place to help achieve our vision: “Open Door” meetings with founders to foster direct communication between staff and senior leadership; Allison University to arm staff with professional skills; and sabbaticals to employees after only five years to provide work/life balance that would allow them to return refreshed and enthusiastic about their work. These and other programs fueled our culture, which also fueled our growth.

As we evolved our capabilities and grew globally, we took care that our culture remained central to all we did. We put great emphasis on whether those invited to join us were a “cultural fit” and implemented numerous activities to ensure they remained engaged after being brought onboard. As we embarked on global expansion, we made it a priority to embrace the local cultures where our offices are based.

Along the way, we continued to check in with our employees to see if we were on track. Our annual Culture Survey has helped us identify and respond to challenges, implement new benefits such as unlimited vacation days, Workout Wednesdays and organic growth bonuses, as well as refine our review processes and professional development offerings.

While we put all of this in place, it wouldn’t have mattered unless we had the right people in place to help our culture flourish. And our people are the best. It’s hard to explain, but there is a sense of comradery here that isn’t seen at other agencies. People are bonded not just by the work they do each day together, but also by the friendships they have outside of our walls. They volunteer and spend time socially together – even after their hours put in at the office are done.

At the end of the day, we’re proud of the creative, collaborative and entrepreneurial culture we’ve worked hard to build. If our employees are happy, it comes through in their work which, in turn, is good for them, our agency and our clients.

Scott Allison is co-founder, chairman and CEO of Allison+Partners.

NOVEMBER 29, 2017 //     

Tastemaker Q+A: Reesa Lake on Where Influencer Marketing is Headed

By: Lucy Arnold

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Allison+Partners Tastemaker Q+A – a series of conversations with industry leaders and trendsetters. This month, we spoke with Reesa Lake about managing talent in the age of influencer marketing.

Reesa Lake.jpgReesa is the partner and senior vice president of brand partnerships at Digital Brand Architects, where she leads development with brands, agencies, publishing houses and digital networks. With more than 15 years of experience working in the media, from traditional print to television to digital, she offers expertise in branded content and integrations, marketing, public relations and branding. 

We’re truly in the “age of influencer marketing” – all our clients are interested in how to move the needle with the power of third-party advocates and Allison+Partners has solidified its point-of-view on how influence is measured. How has the space changed since you started with DBA in 2011?

It feels like a million years ago. Everything has changed, from the types of talent, brands we are working with, to the budgets. In the early days, it was all about education, trying to convince executives they should reevaluate their budgets and shift line items to include influencers. We saw immediate success with our portfolio of creatives, and we were able to book photographers, stylists and videographers on shoots. For the brand, they did not have to invest additional funds but rather shift their budget from a traditional photographer to a street-style photographer or another creative. It was a win-win. The brand had the creative assets they needed, as well as built in amplification through the talent’s site (at the time Instagram did not exist). Fast forward to 2017, and influencers are the new celebrities. With millions of followers, influencers are launching brands, appearing in national television commercials, hosting global retail tours, writing books, developing podcasts and driving traffic and sales for brands. On the flip side, influencer marketing budgets are on the rise, advertising budgets are shifting from print and traditional digital to sponsored influencer content. What once was the added value is now anchoring advertising campaigns.  

Beyond brands and talent, it is inspiring to be at the forefront of an industry that is predominantly led by women. There are conferences and organizations solely focused on creating awareness for women in digital and influencer marketing.  DBA is partners in Create & Cultivate, the platform and conference series that celebrates creative women innovating in our space. I also just joined the board of WIIM, Women In Internet Marketing, that was formed to help women connect, network, share knowledge and experiences. 

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Let’s chat about how you build your partnerships. How do you connect the right talent with the right brand?

The most successful partnerships are rooted in true collaboration and understanding what both parties are looking for. It is not a one size fits all scenario. We like to spend time talking to the client about the  KPI, what are goals and objectives of the campaign, those details determines who we recommend. Is the goal to drive sales, clicks, awareness, traffic in store or to work with the industries’ “it girls”? It is essential to get campaign details from the brand or agency before suggesting talent. What is the scope of work, how will the brand be using the content beyond re-posting organically, who else is participating in the campaign, exclusivity, budget etc.? We then come back with a custom proposal including talent suggestions and often different campaign roll-out options.  

How do you handle partnerships that aren’t authentic or that talent should say no to?

The first thing we ask ourselves and our talent is would you use/wear/consume this brand/product if there was not a payment attached to the endorsement?  Before agreeing to a partnership the talent needs to have a chance to trial the product (beauty/food) or pick the clothes or accessories.  If there is a hesitation, we advise on passing on the project as it will never feel authentic. We have clients who have firm stances on products and categories and pass on partnerships consistently. We have a client who is vegan and only uses natural products. She would never endorse a beauty product with chemicals, so we have had to pass on a significant amount of incremental income. Same goes for our client who will not promote any brands whose products are not cruelty free (that includes parent companies). She has passed on high six figures in deals over the past seven years. On the less extreme side, if the influencer is not excited about the partnership there is often push back on product/messaging and the collaboration does not flow as seamlessly as one if the talent loved the brand. We are transparent with the brand or agency, as there is most likely someone else that we can suggest that would be a better partner. I look at all the campaign details and strategize who would be the best fit for a campaign based on goals and objectives, it is not one size fits all. 

What are your thoughts on the FTC’s guidelines for endorsements?

There is no way to get around it, content that is sponsored needs to be disclosed as such. There has always been a grey area, but the FTC is making efforts to add clarity around compliant language. We advise that all of our talent use the appropriate disclosures across all platforms.  

Do you think these disclosures will have/are having an effect on the industry?

There is a lot of talk around disclosures. We are getting to the point where the consumer is aware and accepts that influencers are being paid for promoting brands. They are being conditioned to accept that #ad and #sponsored are going to be included in paid content. I have not seen a negative effect as long as it is an authentic partnership.

Where do you see influencer marketing headed?

The lines of celebrity and influencer will continue to blur and we will see influencers morph into multi-faceted brands. We launched Digital Brand Products two years ago and in the past three months have seen five influencer brands come to life, many with sell-out launches. Something Navy’s Treasure & Bond collection with Nordstrom had pieces sell out in minutes. Premme, a plus-size line by Nicolette Mason and Gabi Gregg sold out, and Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking launched a line of sauces with Williams Sonoma, also sold out. On the brand side, budgets will shift from TV, print and digital ad banners to influencer campaigns. We’re seeing fewer banner ads as social advertising is on the uptick, the consumer’s Instagram and Facebook feeds will be infiltrated with more brands running ads using the influencer’s image and likeness. 

Interview conducted by Lucy Arnold, Digital Manager at Allison+Partners

NOVEMBER 17, 2017 //     

Which APAC KOLs are Key?

Photo: topchinatravel.com

By: Paul Mottram

Across Asia Pacific, social media has become mainstream. In China, for example, there almost one billion users of WeChat, Tencent’s messaging service that combines messaging with social sharing, ecommerce and payments. Marketing resources – whether paid, owned or earned – are highly allocated towards social platforms.

Amid this shift, marketers are increasingly turning to online influencers, often known simply as KOLs (key opinion leaders) as an alternative to interruptive, frequently intrusive, and often ineffective banner-based advertising. The logic is simple: social endorsement from online opinion leaders or celebrities will reach and appeal to consumers in a natural and compelling way as they scroll through their feeds.

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At Allison+Partners, we wanted to look more closely at how influence really works. So, the latest installment of our Influence Impact Report, takes a deep dive into the dynamics of influence in Asia.

This October, we surveyed 3,065 consumers across the China, Japan and Singapore markets, looking in particular at the food & beverage, financial services, consumer electronics & mobile devices, and travel & leisure sectors. We wanted to understand what kinds of influencers have the greatest and deepest impact? How do consumers weigh the influence of KOLs against that of their friends, families and peers closer to home? And ultimately, how does influence translate into word-of-mouth buzz, shares, and recommendations for brands and products?

The research reveals some intriguing findings:

  • While Asian consumers in these markets are overwhelmingly online, often for at least 3-4 hours per day, direct word of mouth remains the single most powerful influence on them
  • Younger Asian consumers are frequently more conservative, skeptical of change and seeking validation for their product or service choices
  • The brand attributes most valued are social responsibility and visual presentation that matches the consumer’s preferences
  • Influence comes from a variety of sources, depending on the product category. Online influencers and KOLs play a role, but it’s often subsidiary to other sources, such as professional or expert reviews, feature articles, and consumer reviews—and always works in concert with them
  • KOLs are most followed in China, followed by Singapore and Japan
  • Consumers who follow KOLs are on average significantly more likely to recommend products and services to their friends, family and co-workers than those who don’t

The report reveals the complex nature of influence in the region, and suggests a framework for understanding and leveraging it. Influencing word-of-mouth is the name of the game, and getting it right involves not only selecting the right influencers, but also appealing to the subset of consumers – we call them Engaged Enthusiasts – that has a disproportionate influence on their peers.

Download the Influence Impact Report here, and contact us for more information on how we help brands get influence strategy right.

Paul Mottram is managing director of All Told, Asia Pacific.

NOVEMBER 9, 2017 //     

Chow down on FNCE’s next-century trends

Photo: eatrightfnce.org

By: Ilene Smith, R.D.

It doesn’t have the trendspotting power of Expo West or the Fancy Food Show, its exhibit floor doesn’t span football fields and its exhibitors number only in the hundreds. But don’t underestimate the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) as a window into the top-of-mind food trends and nutrition issues for America’s nutrition experts.

This year’s FNCE in October in Chicago marked the academy’s 100th anniversary, and its 70,000 registered dietitian members are clearly ready for the next century. Here’s what will happen, at least at the beginning of those next 100 years:

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Registered Dietitians are Just Plain Pooped -- At least they seem to be thinking about it a lot, based on the roster of educational sessions and exhibitors focused on one or more aspects of digestive health. From exploring the microbiome to fashioning fiber recommendations, Registered Dietitians (RDs) seek solutions for optimal gut health and exhibitors were at the ready. Probiotics were not only touted by stalwart yogurt brands like Dannon but also by fermented food and beverage newcomers such as Farmhouse Culture, GoodBelly and KeVita. Supplemental forms of both pro- and prebiotics included Regular Girl, Culturelle and Essential Formulas.

FOD-what? -- Also in the realm of digestive health but trending on their own are FODMAPs. You’ll be grateful for the acronym after learning FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Eliminating or decreasing these short-chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols from the diet has been shown to alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In fact, many experts believe low FODMAP foods may be the more appropriate solution for people who avoid gluten. Among the handful of exhibitors providing products and resources for those with IBS were Fody Foods’ condiments, spices, sauces and snacks; Dr. Rachel Pauls Happy Bars; Fodmapped, an Australian line of prepared foods not yet available in the U.S.; and FODMAP Friendly, a certification program for FODMAP-friendly foods.

Get Yourself Planted -- Do you remember 5-A-Day? Today’s version may simply be “Eat More Plants.” Whether it’s fruits, vegetables, grains or anything else that grows in the ground, RDs encourage consumers to eat more plant-based foods. And lest you worry about making more salads, easy solutions are at the ready: Blendfresh offered whole-food powders that can be sprinkled on or blended into foods; That’s It has expanded its fruit-based bars into bean-based vegetable bars; and Veggemo pitched its Vegetable Milk..

RDs Search for a Little Pot Luck -- Speaking of plants, one plant at the forefront of RDs’ minds this year was cannabis. While there were still no cannabis exhibitors on the floor (only medical marijuana is legal in Illinois), several RDs view this as a new frontier as marijuana (or components thereof) makes its way into more edible products.

Diving into the Gene Pool -- If you want to get RDs excited about the profession’s next 100 years, mention nutrigenomics or nutrigenetics, the burgeoning field of understanding the differences in how we metabolize different foods and nutrients based on our genetics. As with cannabis, nutrigenomics is still more a hot topic of conversation rather than a food trend. But once this code is cracked, you can expect diets tailor-made for your specific genes.

Ilene Smith, R.D. is Allison + Partners’ In-House Registered Dietitian. 

NOVEMBER 6, 2017 //     

FISH OUT OF WATER: Using combination boxing to kick out the competition

By: Milena Stancati

“You can hit me,” my instructor said. “I’m trained to defend myself against anything you try on me.”

I’ve always feared violence, but I learned quickly Muay Thai is far from just violent punches and kicks -- it’s an art. This Thai boxing culture and combat sport hooked me nearly three days after arriving in Chiang Mai, Thailand. If not that, the elephant sanctuary surely would have.

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It’s important to find some form of exercise while on the road for an entire year. Each month I try something new, but I figured Muay Thai would be like the kickboxing classes I took at my gym. From my experience in the ring, I can tell you they are as similar as Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger playing twins.

After 30 days of practice, I learned the art of the 15-plus moves and combinations the sport demands. I was exhausted and pensive. Thinking about our agency and our colleagues, I realized agencies today are not that different from Muay Thai.

To knock out your opponent, it’s important to combine all techniques -- jabs, punches, hooks, switch kicks and the roundhouse. I watched a live fight, and the winner’s size had nothing to do with the outcome. It had everything to do with power, speed and accuracy in the combinations. Likewise, it’s the full-service agencies that seem to come out on top when pitching new business. Having content, media, digital and crisis communications under one roof puts an agency at an advantage, no matter its size.

Every year, our firm seems to add a new offering to its arsenal. Having come to Allison+Partners from a sales role, the fast-paced environment wasn’t surprising. However, the ability to keep up with the industry changes in PR was. My first year on the job was the introduction to “content is king,” and we launched All Told -- our company’s offering to combat the need for content and digital services that are meaningful and tell a story. The following year, we launched our Influence Report, as the obsession with connecting traditional media to reality dominated the industry.

As technology changes, consumers’ perception changes. Our industry is just trying to keep up. We see the world moving rapidly towards AR and VR, but what’s next? How can we possibly predict the services we’ll need to offer and hire accordingly in the coming years?

I think the line has begun to blur between creativity and measurement. Imagine going to school for accounting and then being asked to present at an art expo. Seems unrealistic? But as this article suggests, numbers can tell a story and data keeps our content current. It’s safe to say as PR professionals, we should start throwing our fear of numbers out the window.

Another line beginning to blur is paid versus owned. Editorial content has been the focus of PR since the start, but the paid-ad approach is a big opportunity. Agencies today have begun to add integrated approaches to PR and hiring from outside the general media pool of talent. A skillset in SEO can now land you a job at a PR firm, where before the advertising world was the place to be.  

We are all aware by now public relations will be more closely aligned with marketing as the industry moves forward. What does that mean for us? Clients want agencies to fulfill a long list of services under one roof and when it comes to marketing for a brand, that list falls within the services of PR. Whether that be media strategy, corporate communications, content, influence or authenticity, it’s the PR team that’s going to help tell the story.

In Muay Thai, there are beginner’s combinations and advanced combinations, and the more you practice the more you learn. The same goes for agencies; the more research and industry analytics we discover, the more prepared and advanced we are when it comes to beating the competition. We may not know what’s next, but we’ll throw punches at the industry once we do.

Milena Stancati is marketing + business development manager for Allison+Partners who is currently spending one year working, traveling and living in 12 different cities throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

OCTOBER 31, 2017 //     

What US digital marketers need to know about social media in China

PHOTO: JOHANNES EISELE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGESBy: Patrick Dean Hodgson

Despite banning social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, China has one of the most unique and influential social media landscapes with some 400 million monthly active users. And while both China and the United States use social media for marketing purposes, there are distinct differences between the applications the two countries use and how they use them. Not only do they use separate media platforms, but their cultures are drawn predictably to different things. To succeed in China, digital marketers in the U.S. must understand the different platforms, attitudes and culture that prevail in the People’s Republic.

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No Facebook or Twitter? No Problem

WeChat is China’s largest social media platform. It is truly all-purpose, offering chat, social media, Alibaba payments, news, hotel bookings and dating services. It has 963 million monthly active users and plans to grow its audience by opening itself to U.S. advertisers.

QQ is an instant messaging app that’s a bit like WeChat. Features accessible to 850 million monthly active users include integrated emails, games, music streaming, dating services, as well as integration with its social media outlet Qzone. If you have a younger target audience, this is the channel you need to use.

Qzone is connected to QQ messenger. Its 606 million monthly active users can create status updates, author blogs, add background music and play games. Profiles can also be customized like Myspace allowed users back in the early social media era.

Weibo offers microblogging services equivalent to a Twitter/Facebook combination. The platform Sina founded in 2009 boasts 361 million active users who are mostly between 18 to 30 years old.

Notably, Internet juggernaut Tencent owns WeChat, QQ and Qzone.

China’s user base more active, more influenced by social circle

The Chinese love networking, and it’s not uncommon for the average Chinese user to subscribe to multiple different networks and use each one actively. The Chinese spend on average 40 percent of their weekly online time using social media sites.

At the same time, the Chinese mistrust deeply traditional media and rely on social networks for accurate, meaningful news and information. Any shared content in a Chinese user’s network holds a strong sense of legitimacy. China users are especially influenced by the thoughts, views and opinions of their closest friends and family members. A popular marketing approach in China is offering promotional discounts that include the entire family.

Key Opinion Leaders

A Key Opinion Leader (KOL) is a Chinese figure who holds a large following, ranging from the thousands to millions. These influential figures can be used to promote effectively a brand or message. Here are some of China’s most influential KOLs:

  • Papi Jiang – Papi Jiang is an active internet celebrity who uses social media sites like Weibo and Youku. She is famous for her video podcasts, which make fun of the daily news. She has over 8 million Weibo followers.
  • Ma Jianguo – This is the second-highest ranked Weibo account, which is followed by more than 24 million fans. Jianguo’s popularity can be largely attributed to her dog (NiuNiu) and cat (DuanWu). Fans love following the daily lives of these two animals.
  • Aikeli Li – Aikeli is one of China’s most famous bloggers and photographers. He has more than 9 million Weibo followers.Tips for approaching social media in China

In China, content is king – By creating interesting shareable content in Mandarin, you will have greater appeal to Chinese consumers. Popular content is often created in cartoon style due to the popularity of cartoon characters.

Always be active – You must truly engage with Chinese consumers to attract their interest and attention. They are more likely to share your brand within their close network if you use a more direct communication approach and remain consistently active.

Seek out a KOL – A KOL can be your brand’s greatest asset. Finding and recruiting one or more of these prominent figures can be extremely beneficial for your brand, instantly increasing your credibility.

Paid Social – Similar, to the U.S. paid social is vital to successful results. You’ll need to take time to understand what type of advertising is included on each channel. WeChat is the most expensive among the platforms. You can run banner ads and moment posts (think Facebook status update). QQ and Qzone offers Tencent ads. Weibo is the best option of the group because of the amount of targeting options. The most effective choices include display advertisements, search engine promotion, fan headline and fan tunnel.

While having a great social media presence in China seems like a tall task, it’s achievable and requires a new way of thinking. Understanding the pros and cons of WeChat, QQ, Qzone and Weibo is a first step. Partnering with the right KOLs is a bigger step. Are you ready to try social media in China? Your commitment level will definitely be challenged.

Patrick Hodgson is digital director at Allison+Partners. 

OCTOBER 25, 2017 //     

5 Trends Shaping Marketing Communications Measurement and Analytics

Image: IDG EnterpriseBy: Brent Diggins

By now, many (but not all) marketing and communications leaders have realized not only the importance of measurement and analytics, but also the power it affords. Data and measurement can shape organizations, justify budgets, create new budgets, help people make informed decisions and optimize current programs. The list goes on and on, even down to job security.

But what if one day that power was taken away or it slipped slowly from your fingertips? There are a number of trends shaping the data, measurement and optimization operations. Working daily with some of the world’s largest organizations and hearing feedback from CMOs, CCOs and data teams, here are the five trends I see and hear most frequently that shape marketing communications measurement (and I’m throwing out advancing technology, as that is a given…).

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1. Organizational Silo Breakdowns Creating Data Challenges

Whether globally, organizationally or inter-departmentally, companies today “break down silos” to “create efficiency and consistency” or to “streamline business operations.” Whatever the motive, many organizations are in various stages and see different success levels.

When knocking down those walls, many companies find individual business units are often at various levels of data collection and reporting maturity. Therefore, they find it difficult to meet in the middle to deliver that full picture for which so many yearn.  That brings us to the next trend…

2. The Creation of Centralized Marketing and Communications Data Teams

Advanced organizations organize data and reporting structures dedicated solely to marketing and communications. I’ve seen different models ranging from an “embedded” person on each business unit team who reports through a centralized structure to a purely centralized structure that takes requests only from marketing and communications teams. Another common model organizations employ, of course, is a centralized data and reporting team servicing all business operations, where often marketing and communications takes a seat behind other requests. 

3. The Rise of Real-Time Strategists

Data comes in — mostly in real time. In a majority of structures, the data analyst is not a person with the skillset to make and navigate strategic decisions. Slot in the real-time strategist who optimizes campaigns by navigating between campaign owners and the data team. A unique skillset, the real-time optimizer can read data and come to strong conclusions, but then has the channels to change strategy and optimize operations as necessary. This person needs a lot of access and the ability to move throughout the marketing and communications organization, particularly with an un-siloed structure.

4. The Talent Void

Business analysts, financial analysts and other specialized analysts have long been in the business world, but the talent pool for marketing analysts, particularly in communications, is small. Often these people come from another discipline or background. The speed at which marketing now moves is often unattractive to the traditional researcher or analyst and compensation is less. That makes creating and maintaining a functional and scalable structure difficult.

5. Industry Education

Technology’s evolutionary pace and data and analytics’ speed make it difficult for the industry to keep up with the latest strategies, tools and metrics. We are at a point where consistent education is necessary just to understand the fundamentals. Every time a new marketing tactic or tool launches, it brings a host of available metrics that may need to be examined for optimal operation. That said, marketers and communicators will need to put more trust in their centralized specialists, or look to hire them, as individual education is simply hard to achieve. 

Looking ahead, expect marketing and communications leaders to implement these five trends in search of better measurement and analytics.

Brent Diggins is senior vice president of measurement and analytics. 

OCTOBER 23, 2017 //     

Storm Center: By Sharing Personal Stories, Influencers Inspire Charitable Giving

Credit: Getty Images

By: Scott Pansky

Hurricane Harvey was coming. Along the Texas coastline and in neighboring cities, people were warned to evacuate their homes.

As the storm approached, it did not slow down. The hurricane cut through Texas into the city of Houston, inflicting damage not seen since Hurricane Katrina in 2004. Superman wasn’t there to save the day, but we found a different kind of hero in humanitarian J.J. Watt.

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Like many local residents, the All-Pro defensive end for the Houston Texans was stranded out of town and could not get home. But Watt knew he had to do something right away to make a difference. On Aug. 27, he grabbed his phone, signed onto his social media accounts and challenged people to match his foundation’s gift of $100,000 in aid for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

In less than 24 hours, that commitment was met and surpassed. Watt raised the appeal to $200,000, then to $500,000 and then to $1 million. The Houston Texans, along with television personality Ellen DeGeneres and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., donated an additional $1 million to the Justin J. Watt Foundation’s Houston flood-relief fund. Jimmy Fallon and “The Tonight Show” donated another $1 million, and in the second week, Charles Butt, CEO of San Antonio-based supermarket chain H-E-B, donated $5 million to the fund.

As of Sept. 18, 500,000-plus people had shared Facebook posts about the fundraising effort, with 209,000 making donations to Watt’s Youcaring.com page, raising $37 million.

Personal stories encourage donations

The success of Watt’s fundraising efforts underscores many of the insights from a study recently released by my firm, Allison+Partners. The report, called “How Influence, Empathy and Engagement Have Transformed Cause in the Digital Era,” examines the dynamics between those who follow influencers and the impact those influencers can have on cause-related efforts.

Among the report’s findings is that when looking for an influencer to champion a cause, followers want to feel connected to the issue personally or through a relationship. In fact, when asked what inspires trust in an influencer’s recommendation about a cause, 63 percent cited “if the influencer personally volunteers with the organization.” Sixty-one percent chose “if the influencer shares stories of others who have been helped or impacted by the charity or cause,” and 60 percent selected “if the influencer was personally impacted by the cause.”

Houston is Watt’s hometown and where he plays professional football. His personal connection resonated not only in the Texas city, but with millions of football fans around the world.

The study found that personal stories fuel engagement. When asked about the content they would most likely share about a cause, 64 percent of respondents chose “stories about individuals who have been positively impacted.”

Watt posted regular updates on the amount of money being raised and shared stories about his teammates’ volunteer efforts after Hurricane Harvey. Numerous media outlets interviewed him about the needs of his community. Together, these personal stories created an authentic call to action that continues to inspire people to contribute their time and money to helping victims of the historic storm.

The empathy demonstrated in personal stories helps amplify their influence, the study found. Watt is a football player, but his efforts during Hurricane Harvey were not a one-off self-promotion or a cause-marketing campaign. Instead, it was one man’s way of trying to make a difference in the community where he lives and works.

While his celebrity status and large social media following helped raise awareness and donations, it was his compassion for those affected and his authentic message that moved millions to act. In fundraising efforts, the right influencer doesn’t have to be the most well-known or have the largest number of followers. In fact, the right person is much more likely to be someone like Watt, who has a loyal following and an organic connection to the cause.

Among survey respondents who follow digital influencers, 62 percent said an influencer who personally volunteers for a charitable organization will “extremely/somewhat positively” affect their trust in that cause or organization. An influencer telling stories across multiple online platforms can motivate shares and likes and thus create impact. PR professionals are realizing that when it comes to raising awareness and donations for a cause, traditional media alone can’t match the power of working with the right influencers.

Consumers today are more savvy and selective about the content they read and share. They’re seeking authenticity and connections to causes they care about. Influencers can use their platforms to share moving stories, make personal connections and reach specific audiences.

Scott Pansky is co-founder/partner of Allison + Partners in Los Angeles. He also serves as an executive committee member of PRSA’s Entertainment and Sports Professional Interest Section.

This blog originally was posted in PRSA's Public Relations Tactics Newsletter.

OCTOBER 17, 2017 //     

Web Design and Your Business: The Benefits of ADA Compliance

Image: Wedgie MediaBy: Patrick Dean Hodgson

Boot up, launch your browser and pull up your favorite website. Now, close your eyes and have someone cover your ears. Try to navigate and go to your favorite hot spots on that website. This is the obstacle millions of Americans with disabilities face every day.

A good corporate website isn't all about appearance and content. Ensuring accessibility is as important as providing visitors with solid information. According to the United States Census Bureau, 56.7 million Americans have a disability. That figure makes up nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population. Now think about if one in every five customers can’t use your website. How much revenue might you lose? That’s why it’s critical to understand how beneficial ADA compliance can be to help these Americans and for the future of any company.

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What's ADA compliance and why is It so important?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 2010 sets the standards for accessible design. Implemented by the Department of Justice, it states how all commercial and public websites should be built to remain easy to use for everyone.

While there are a lot of guidelines governing ADA websites, you should be aware of Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). Both documents carry much of the same rules, however WCAG is more extensive.

A few best practices you can easily use to combat common ADA violations:

  • Add text to images and videos. Many sites are guilty of not using text to identify pictures. Not only is it harmful for search engine optimization (SEO), but it also creates a challenge for blind customers. For example, a sports apparel website may have a picture of LeBron James. The blind person should be able to use a screen reader on the image and hear “photo of LeBron James.” If your customer is deaf, text captions and descriptions on your videos are effective tactics.
  • Avoid PDF files. PDF and other similar files are problematic for the visually impaired too. Unlike images, these types of formats usually can’t be read by screen readers.
  • Adjust colors and font sizes. When designers and developers build websites, high contrast colors are often an afterthought because of brand guidelines or overzealous creativeness. This is one of the great missteps by web teams because most people with vision issues rely heavily on high contrast settings.

While listing all the guidelines is beyond the scope of this article, here's why building an ADA-compliant website should be a top priority.

  • You'll increase your organic reach, drawing more people to your pages: For the disabled, choosing which sites to visit often isn't a choice at all. Achieving total ADA compliance means everyone will feel comfortable browsing your pages. In turn, that leads to more engagement from a broader range of people, resulting in more social media shares, mentions and an overall increase in brand awareness. 
  • You'll rank better in searches, beating out competitors: While search engines won't check whether a website respects ADA, Google and its peers do care about the number of hits each URL receives. Since building an ADA-compliant website attracts more visitors, it in turn increases your ranking. More pageviews and longer sessions show how relevant your space is, taking it straight to the top of Google search results.
  • You'll bolster your reputation as a socially responsible organization: Today, disabilities and their effects are no longer just medical issues. Throughout the world, hundreds of organizations fight to defend the rights of those suffering from disabilities. When you dedicate time and effort to create an ADA-compliant website, you make a statement about your company’s social engagement depth, which can drive real business results.

Even though a significant number of Americans have trouble accessing the web, most websites fail at ADA compliance. This is risky for businesses, since the Department of Justice is planning on enforcing these rules on websites in 2018. The time to become ADA compliant is now.

Patrick Hodgson is digital director at Allison+Partners. 

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