Social media offers brand managers by the billions

If social media has taught CMOs one thing, it's that we no longer own our brands. The world now engages in a nonstop conversation and consumers expect that dialogue to continue when they interact with companies.

If social media has taught CMOs one thing, it's that we no longer own our brands. The world now engages in a nonstop conversation and consumers expect that dialogue to continue when they interact with companies.

Today anyone with Internet access and an opinion about a product is helping shape perceptions of your corporate assets. Think of it as billions of potential brand managers - whether you want them or not.

Over the past five years, Kodak has undergone a radical transformation into a new, digital company. With these changes, we established a new voice by building on our rich heritage of imaging innovation. We care deeply about all those unofficial brand managers. We use social media - and now mobile marketing - to carry on our part of the conversation.

PR is fundamental to this approach. Its name says it all - it's about relating to the public. It is accustomed to responding quickly to change, including when conversations take a surprising turn. Here are a few examples of how Kodak is building social media and mobile marketing into the DNA of our core PR activities:

Product launches. At CES we used social media to drive awareness of new product announcements and booth traffic. To add to the show experience and bring it to life for those who could not attend, we created the "K-Zone," an in-booth TV studio that broadcast lively discussions throughout the show via live Internet streaming. We featured industry experts, thinkers, influencers, and celebrities who debated hot technology, photography, and other important topics.

Twitter was key to this strategy, providing natural brand extensions, such as linking to TweetPhoto and soliciting K-Zone questions from remote viewers. We also experimented with mobile marketing through text-to-win contests, another foray into the immediate and personalized conversations we can have on this always-on communication channel.

Crowdsourcing. Using social media for product launches is invaluable for giving the PR team immediate feedback on what grabs interest or prompts strong opinions. But crowdsourcing takes it to a whole new level.

We recently experimented with crowdsourcing a product name to our fan base. After a digital video camera we launched last year received high praise for everything except its name, we tried crowdsourcing. Within hours of kicking off a contest to name our new product, we got thousands of suggestions via Twitter and our A Thousand Words blog.

The experiment worked, as we engaged consumers in an active conversation with our brand and we netted two very usable names: "Play" and "Sport," which we combined to dub the Kodak PlaySport digital video camera.

Listening, not just talking. Some marketers tout social media for disseminating messages, but that's not the big payoff. Social media is at least as valuable for what comes back.

That's one reason Kodak introduced a chief blogger in spring 2008. Our "CB" Jenny Cisney provides daily oversight and creative guidance for our blogs - A Thousand Words and Grow Your Biz - and is our eyes and ears online by listening to customer feedback and sharing ideas on our products and services.

The future looks bright. The future for social media and mobile marketing is very exciting. As an industry, we have not even scratched the surface of what can be achieved. Mobile marketing adds a promising layer on top of the success that PR and marketing have achieved using social media. A Forrester study shows user awareness of mobile marketing tactics is as high as 70% and mobile marketing is projected to attract the second highest share of the interactive marketing spend, right behind social networking.

Kodak recently created a mobile marketing guide for our partners and customers. It's more of a "why get involved" than a "how to" because, frankly, mobile is still quickly evolving. But I can say confidently that mobile marketing is fast becoming a major channel in our overall integrated strategy for reaching customers.

Social media and mobile marketing are immediate and a little ungoverned, but that isn't a bad thing. Both are what skilled PR pros can easily handle. Let's embrace the unexpected, treat everyone we meet as a potential brand manager, and start some conversations.

Jeff Hayzlett serves as CMO and VP at Eastman Kodak Company. He is a frequent speaker on business growth, communications, and marketing.

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