Social media has put the one-to-many model of marketing and branding on steroids. It used to be that companies had to market to people by sending catalogs, brochures, postcards or other direct mail pieces. It was time-consuming to get all that promotional material printed, collated, folded and out the door into a local mailbox. Whew, it feels like a lot of work just describing that process (not that there isn’t a place for direct marketing still).
But, for the record, let’s talk about what a brand is and isn’t. A brand is not your logo, your corporate colors or the font you use for callouts on your blog. A brand is the culmination of the total experience your market has with your company. So, it is all of those things collectively, yet none of those things separately.
For example, my brand promise is built on generosity, reciprocity, no-nonsense, cut-to-the-chase, make it simple principles. This comes across when I’m speaking on stage and in person. I’m amazed when people tell me that I’m the same person onstage and off. My brand comes through in my writing style. I write how I speak. The logo for my company is very strong and solid, because that’s who I am. This is starting to make sense, yes?
We’ve entered a new era riddled with dichotomy. There are more eyeballs than ever, yet consumers are more educated, private and cautious than ever. They can friend and unfriend you all in the same minute. The market isn’t fickle, it’s downright erratic at times. How on earth can an honest company build and execute on a brand promise with all this undulation?
Social media allows you to:
1. Seize the opportunity. When done correctly, social media can create a depth of experience with your company that would normally take years to cultivate. Take Twitter for example; companies have employees Tweeting on their behalf. What does this do? It makes the face of even the largest company, human. Have you ever seen Verizon’s Twitter page? You get to see faces behind the Tweets and the use of the Twitter shorthand up carat allows people to speak directly to a company’s Twitter spokespeople and have a real-time conversation. Company Twitter representatives can offer support, general direction and praise all without picking up the phone, drafting an email or leaving the office. You can’t beat that with a stick.
2. Choose who you are. All social media platforms have one element in common: a user profile. The user profile allows you to craft your brand experience based on the words you use, the words you don’t use and the energy in which the content is expressed. Of course, your network updates and Tweets need to reflect the same tone. For example, if your company’s description is very punchy, your market’s experience with your company won’t be the same if your updates are stiff and straitlaced.
3. Tell the same story everywhere. If your business is represented and active on a few social media platforms, this gives you the opportunity to underscore exactly what your brand is about again and again and again. It doesn’t serve you to deliver one experience on your blog, a different experience on your Facebook Fan Page and a third type of encounter on Twitter. That’s inconsistent and will never help you build a sustainable brand that people like – and your market needs to like your brand.
4. Leverage instantaneous feedback. The double-edged sword of social media is that your company can get feedback as fast as you can ask for it. Just ask the folks at Gap. Sales had been down for some time and without warning, pomp and circumstance, the company changed its logo from the classic, serif font we’ve all known to grow and love to something that looked like it belonged on a t-shirt tag in a strip mall. I love Gap, but this new look was about as palatable as sourball candy. Now, don’t try this at home kids… the scuttlebutt about the logo did get the company some much-needed attention and sales are up. Did Gap do this on purpose? Did they use social media to drum up some social attention? We’ll never know, but the response across social media was, and still is, undeniable. The team at Under Armour has had the exact opposite experience with their Protect This House online video and commercial campaign. It’s called a double-edged sword for a reason.
5. Invest time only. Many social media marketing tools are low-cost or free. You don’t have to pay for printing, stamps, paper or ink. If you can type, point and click, you can participate.
6. Topple the leader. Social media platforms are just that – platforms. They are ways for your business to listen to your market, build a fabric of conversation around your brand, and when done right, eat the competition’s breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack. It is not my intent to imply that this can be done quickly, but depending on your competition’s social media credibility (if they have any), there’s a potential to corner market share and mindshare. I forget who wrote this, but I read somewhere that nowadays everyone has a megaphone – it’s called a blog.
Time for a brand makeover? Learn more about how your brand can represent – and shape – your business in the Project RE:Brand webisode series by American Express OPEN. Project RE:Brand follows five small businesses as five creative agencies help them re-envision their brands.