Losing the digital game
Is it game over for the old-school approach?
As a growing number of FTSE 100 companies launch corporate branding campaigns, a report seen exclusively by Marketing Week reveals that too few of the UK’s biggest businesses are making their online and mobile communications consistent.
- Aviva is ranked as the fifth most connected company in the FTSE 100 - read about how it makes the most its corporate mobile website
- Rated as having the third best website in the FTSE 100, read about how InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) optimises its Olympic sponsorship with its Holiday Inn brand
- Tullow Oil ranks at number 12 for its overall digital communications - click here to read a Q&A with George Cazenove, the company’s head of media relations
In today’s digital world, marketers often focus on their individual brands when they communicate with consumers. But when it comes to talking about their parent companies, the UK’s corporate giants are far less polished.
Indeed, the majority of FTSE 100 companies are failing to use digital media to talk effectively about their corporate brands, according to a report seen exclusively by Marketing Week.
When consultancy Radley Yeldar analysed how FTSE 100 companies use their own websites, mobile sites and social media accounts to communicate, it found that Shell is the most digitally connected company, followed by Unilever and then SAB Miller. Meanwhile, Prudential, Burberry and Admiral Group are all near the bottom of the ranking (see table, below).
The study uses an extensive scoring system, taking into account parent company websites, presence on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook and how the companies optimise their sites on smartphones (see Method, below).
Despite a corporate website being a regulatory requirement of listing on the London Stock Exchange, the way FTSE 100 companies communicate digitally is far from encouraging. They are particularly poor when it comes to connecting up their communications channels. Although 98% have a presence on LinkedIn and 56% are on Twitter, less than half of the select group use other social networks, blogs, or have mobile websites and apps, according to this study.
Unilever’s chief marketing officer Keith Weed says the rise of new media channels requires Britain’s corporations to pay attention to their digital footprint. “People are getting much more interested in finding out about the company behind the brand and have the tools to go online and find out more,” he says.
Consumers and business communities alike use the web and social networks to find and spread information, so companies need to make sure their corporate ‘story’ is easily found and understood by increasingly diverse audiences.
Unilever has focused on increasing awareness of its corporate brand since 2009 and in 2010 launched its Sustainable Living Plan, which aims to double the company’s sales over 10 years while cutting the environmental impact of its products by 50%.
Unilever began telling this story of sustainable business online, and it is through digital channels that the company has built the initial groundswell of interest in the corporate brand. The company will run a corporate branding campaign targeting consumers later this year, as Marketing Week exclusively reported last month.
Introducing the Sustainable Living Plan 18 months ago required Unilever to reform its digital corporate communications. It consolidated its previously disparate social media resources, such as Facebook pages, cutting down their number and honing their focus, says Weed.
“We have been stepping up in this area so you can now find a coherent story about the brand - the heritage, the Sustainable Living Plan, sourcing and consumer living,” he adds. “We are doing this to tell the story behind Unilever, and I would want Unilever to be a quality mark of sustainability.” Unilever’s consumer advertising now features its U logo, as does its packaging.
Fellow FMCG giant Procter & Gamble is also focusing on its parent brand, running its first global corporate campaign as part of its Olympics sponsorship, with the majority of the activity using digital media.
Tom Glover, director of communications for the technology arm of publisher Pearson says he sees gradual improvements in corporate communications online. “Corporate brands have lagged behind consumer-facing companies in terms of the creative use of digital and social media,” he says. “But this is changing quickly and many FTSE 100 companies are now looking to see how they can better use digital technologies to tell their stories and connect with a new, wider range of audiences.”
It is about moving from the megaphone of a corporate saying ‘read my press release’ to saying ‘what do you think about it?’
Pearson ranks as the fifth best user of social media in the FTSE 100, and also designed a website specifically for the publication of its 2011 annual report. As well as allowing visitors to download the usual PDFs outlining its finances, Pearson laid out the data and analysis in easy-to-navigate web pages that contain video interviews of senior executives.
The company is now taking the “next steps” in that direction. Glover says: “Our new activities include building a network of staff as digital advocates, creating a larger database of online influencers, gathering more social insights that can be fed back into the business, new blogs and more engaging platforms for our corporate responsibility programme.”
While Pearson has increased the number of ways it conveys corporate information to reach an increasingly diverse audience with a wide range of interests, other brands have followed a similar route for different reasons.
InterContinental Hotels, for example, wants to increase awareness of its corporate brand (see case study, below), while Tullow Oil’s operations in Africa led to people directly affected by its activities taking an interest in the business (see Q&A, below).
Radley Yeldar director Richard Coope advises that companies need a more sophisticated view of their digital audiences. For example, he says, a company’s Twitter feed might be focused on reaching journalists with real-time news updates, while the content on its Facebook page could be directed at prospective employees.
Another reason for a company to take to Twitter could be that users there are already talking about it, especially when it is a company often in the news. In that case, there may be a need to react to stories as they break.
Aviva is fifth overall on Radley Yeldar’s list and head of media Sue Winston says: “We quite often find that Twitter has shortened the news cycle. It is highly likely that journalists will hear about Aviva’s activities through Twitter before they have seen our traditional press release.
“As a digital team, we have to keep our colleagues informed about what is being talked about on Twitter, what are the concerns of journalists and the themes that are running through the coverage. We act as a listening post as well as a source of external communication.”
Indeed, the insurer used Twitter to announce the resignation of chief executive Andrew Moss this week following a shareholder revolt against executive directors’ pay.
Aviva’s corporate communications are not just focused on issues that are related to the brand, but also on the insurance and financial services industries in general. As a result, it has a mobile version of its corporate website that provides up-to-date articles on a variety of financial topics for journalists, analysts and brokers. It also uses this content to engage new readers interested in these issues.
Mobile access to corporate information is fast becoming a must-have, according to Clare Haines, media relations officer at B&Q owner Kingfisher, who adds that this is why the company recently developed an iPad app housing regulatory news, financial data, multimedia presentations and a financial calendar.
“The iPad app was developed with analysts and investors in mind, but it also allows senior management to access Kingfisher information on the move,” says Haines.
Kingfisher, which ranks as the best in the FTSE 100 for its corporate website and is fourth on Radley Yeldar’s overall list, is ahead of the game. Only 21% of FTSE 100 companies have a mobile-optimised website, while 17% have mobile apps. Fewer have connected these so the content is presented coherently across all platforms.
Shell is another exception. Its corporate website is designed to match its layout to the device and screen size it is viewed on. This means the content automatically scales in size to fit the browser window, and switches itself to the mobile layout when it becomes smaller than the minimum dimensions of the desktop site.
This technological assistance requires an investment in website design and software, but also needs thought to select which content to prioritise on which devices.
Coope at Radley Yeldar points out that corporations with mostly business customers, and without great experience of the digital technology more often associated with consumer marketing “can feel a bit overwhelmed by the pace of change”.
“Trying to get your head round whether you should have a mobile website or a mobile app can take time to work out. People can also end up focusing on the technology itself, rather than what it is trying to do from a communications perspective,” he adds.
Listed companies also need to take care when issuing real-time updates. The regulatory reason for them having corporate websites is so any information that could affect share prices can always be published in the same place. FTSE 100 businesses risk prosecution under the Financial Services and Markets Act if they release price-sensitive news to other audiences before announcing it to investors in the City.
But regardless of whether your corporate brand is on digital media or not, consumers and business observers alike will not wait for you to put it there before they start talking about it themselves via Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. That means corporations at least need an awareness of what is being said about them online, though Coope notes: “Just being on a particular digital channel is not a strategy.”
A connected communications strategy means putting the right information for the right people in the right place at the right time.
Radley Yeldar’s research looks at the FTSE 100’s digital corporate communications in terms of story, relevance, experience, timeliness and connectedness.
Across corporate websites, social media and mobile channels, it scores companies’ performances on these five measures as a percentage, then averages them to reach an overall indexscore.
For example, it looks at 11 different measurements for how a company uses LinkedIn, including how often the company posts online, whether there are links to its other websites or Twitter and whether it responds to posts on its profile page. Each is scored out of five and the process is repeated for Facebook, YouTube and blogs.
FTSE 100’s most connected corporations
3 SAB Miller
=6 Reckitt Benckiser
=8 InterContinental Hotels Group
Top 5 corporate websites
5 Reckitt Benckiser
Top 5 corporates using social media
1 Reckitt Benckiser
4 SAB Miller
Top 5 corporates using mobile websites and apps
FTSE 100’s least connected corporations
Radley Yeldar ranking: 94
Given Burberry’s polished consumer brand, it might be expected to have clearer corporate communications. However, it gives little away about itself online. It has a “limited” corporate presence on LinkedIn and YouTube, but little else by way of connected storytelling, and no mobile website.
Radley Yeldar ranking: 97
The fact that insurance groups feature at both ends of the rankings indicates that it is not the subject matter but rather a lack of vision that inhibits those at the bottom. Admiral’s corporate website, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts are sub-standard and have “no real consideration for story and connectedness”, according to Radley Yeldar.
International Consolidated Airlines Group
Radley Yeldar ranking: 100
The holding company of British Airways and Iberia that was founded in January 2011 has no social media or mobile web presence. IAG scores below average on all measures, with no more than 21% on story, relevance, timeliness or connectedness.
Case study: Aviva
Ranked as the fifth most connected company in the FTSE 100 by Radley Yeldar, Aviva scores particularly highly for its corporate mobile website. The homepage prominently features Aviva’s share prices on the London and New York stock exchanges, supplemented by news on the company and the wider insurance industry.
The brand uses its .com address to communicate corporate information, while country-specific URLs like Aviva.co.uk serve as the more product-oriented homepages directed at consumers.
Aviva is unusual among public companies, according to head of media Sue Winston, because it has more than 500,000 individual shareholders. That is partly due to being a product of mergers between other companies including Norwich Union, a former mutual organisation that floated on the stock market in 1997, giving all of its members shares.
“We have a very broad retail shareholder base,” she says. “In addition, we are reaching out to people who are potential and existing employees. Across the audiences, the common denominator is that digital media play an increasing role as the places where people get information these days. It is important to make sure that we don’t just follow that trend, but also be trend setters.”
In Radley Yeldar’s report, Aviva is commended for the timeliness of its corporate communications, registering a score of 69%, which compares with an average of 45% across the FTSE 100 on the timeliness measure. Aviva’s corporate responsibility blog and its Aviva.tv online video library are cited as two examples of this, showing a “well considered content strategy”.
Its lowest score - 47% - is on the extent to which all its corporate information channels are connected to one another. But this is a measure on which the FTSE 100 performs badly overall, averaging only 26%.
According to Winston, Aviva is attempting to improve this. As well as its desktop and mobile websites, the brand takes in social media, an app and resources provided through online document publishing platform Scribd.
She says: “It is about moving from the corporate megaphone saying ‘read my press release’ to saying ‘what do you think about it?’ or trying to engage people on the issues that we face as a financial services provider. We have a process of education and information we need to go through to help people understand why it’s important that they save for their retirement.”
Case study: InterContinental Hotels Group
If a corporate website is all about telling a company’s story, then there is one great omission from the site of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) - its sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics. The company’s Holiday Inn brand is the official hotel of the London Games, but with the notoriously stringent rules about using Olympic branding to promote services, IHG can’t actually boast about the fact on its corporate site.
Holiday Inn is a ‘tier three’ official provider to the London organising committee, Locog, and while that brand can make use of its status in UK marketing, it isn’t something that IHG can cite in its international corporate communications. That, however, hasn’t stopped Radley Yeldar recognising its website as the third best of the FTSE 100’s.
IHG gets particular praise for being timely and topical in the information it makes available through ihgplc.com. Like many corporate sites, it includes regularly updated news and links to its financial reports, but also more in-depth content directed at investors, media and employees around the world.
The company is also trying to increase awareness of its corporate brand among consumers, currently more acquainted with the consumer brands of its resorts, such as InterContinental and Crowne Plaza.
“There is a benefit to people understanding the portfolio of the brands,” says global external communications director Kari Kerr. This is especially true as IHG adds more country-specific hotel brands. Two new brands - Hualuxe in China and Even Hotels in the US - were recently launched with prominent stories featured on the corporate site.
To some extent, there is already a level of integration between the communications strategies of its consumer and corporate brands, with one community of staff working across all IHG’s digital channels. Community managers for each individual hotel brand are quick to direct enquiries or comments relevant to the IHG corporate brand to the group communications team, Kerr says.
The corporate components of the wider IHG digital community stretch to social media sites, which are linked to from the main website. Those accounts take a slightly different tone of voice. Tweets will not simply be replications or promotions of press releases. Instead, Kerr says that they will usually try to “find a different angle”.
Even with the size of IHG’s consumer-facing hotel operations, a team of just three people monitors conversations going on in digital media from IHG’s global headquarters in Buckinghamshire. Their shifts are staggered to ensure that someone watches the wires seven days a week.
“If there is a negative story breaking, we can respond instantly,” says Kerr. “We have had a couple of instances where we have done that.”
She cites a 2011 terrorist attack on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, which is not part of IHG. The corporate communications team took to social media sites to let analysts and media know that the hotel affected was not one of the company’s properties.
This was an example of connected corporate communications being vital to preserving the brand’s reputation.
Head of media relations
Tullow Oil, which ranks at number 12 for its overall digital communications
Marketing Week (MW): How do Tullow’s digital corporate communications contribute to its brand?
George Cazenove (GC): Tullow Oil is not a consumer-facing brand, so our main interaction is with investors, analysts and industry and business media. Part of our brand is tied up in our share price and part of it is tied up in our new markets in Africa.
Our investor focus means that our website is geared towards making sure that people understand the work we are doing and how
we create value. That is where we lay a great deal of the emphasis in our digital communications.
MW: Who does Tullow consider to be its customers?
GC: Shareholders, analysts, governments and people in our new markets of Uganda and Ghana, where Tullow has brand recognition far above that in the UK. Oil and gas are synonymous with Tullow in Ghana. This is why our website has very specific Ghana and Uganda pages that explain what we are doing in those territories.
MW: What kind of content do you feature on your corporate website?
GC: We are keen on local content, which includes employment, users and suppliers. Our homepage has a link to our ‘Doing business with Tullow’ page. It is a portal for local suppliers to find out how they can come up to the standards required to fulfil our needs.
It is geared towards keeping those that are keenest to know about Tullow up to date about what we are doing. Our news releases are all about keeping people up to date about our activities.
We tend to focus on regulatory news statements because they are the main tools that we use for updating individuals and the market.
However, we also have an alert system that sends out an email the moment any new press releases appear on the site.
MW: How else do you update your digital audiences on real-time corporate news?
GC: We have to be very careful about updating people in real time because you can’t drip-feed news about drilling or upcoming wells. It has to be a single point of news and a single timing.
We wouldn’t do that and we wouldn’t encourage it. It is not a way that oil companies can do business, when it comes to price-sensitive news.
MW: What is your strategy for updating social networks, and who are your followers?
GC: We have a Twitter feed that we mostly use to promote the fact that we have issued a statement. We have just hired someone to run our social media sites and corporate website.
Currently, one of my colleagues just uses Twitter for us when he has time, but I think it is something we would look to use more. In a crisis situation, we would certainly look at using the website and Twitter to keep people updated on a regular basis. We are well aware of the power of Twitter.
A colleague replied to a tweet and within 24 hours, the number of people following Tullow had doubled from 1,000 to 2,000 - all people in Kenya, who tweet more than people in Uganda and Ghana. Most of our Twitter followers are African. We tend to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and other services to amplify what is on the website. While the content on those extra channels is currently driven by the website, I do wonder if that will change in time.