Include Social Media in your Brand Strategy

Branding your company is a big, arduous task. It’s not just a logo, it’s not your business cards, letterheads and advertising. What a lot of people and companies don’t understand about branding, is that your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what the consumers believe it is. It’s what the consumer feels about your brand. How do you communicate with your consumers to understand what they’re thinking, and how do to align their beliefs with your own brand strategy? Enter social media.

The term social media gets thrown about a lot, and social media strategy equally so. However, where does a social media strategy actually fit within your brand strategy? How do you leverage social media channels to effectively communicate with your consumers and how do you use social media to affect change within your brand strategy?

For starters, social media is a tool to reinforce your marketing communications pillar. It is not a separate entity; social media should enhance your marketing objectives and then your business strategy. Your business strategy aligns with the perception of your brand. This process is ever changing only because your consumers’ opinions are ever changing. What social can bring to the table is immediate, effective understanding and communications with your consumer base. Social is where you will find the most up-to-date brand opinion. This is important, vastly important to your brand, because you can decipher what your consumer believes, understand their concerns and with quick process, adjust the marketing communications to align your brand communications with the consumer’s perception.

Large words, I know. What is important to know is, consumer brand perception can and will change faster than marketing or brand channels can keep up with. Social offers a unique point of view of what’s happening in the eyes of the consumer and allows for rapid modification to marketing communications.

Picture this: Your brand launches a new product to market. This product is supposed to change the way people look at your brand. It’s meant to instill faith in your brand and some sort of positive, hopeful emotion. Now, let’s say there is a backlash against the product. Your product is either too expensive, insulting or just downright lame. Your consumers have an obvious opinion about this. Where do they go? They go where they spend the most of their time, Facebook and Twitter. Their opinion about your product is posted online, for their network, the network’s network, and the world to see. And with 90% of consumers trusting recommendations from people they know*, more consumers gravitate to the opinion and now you have a mess on your hands.

You have a Facebook fan page. The consumers post their discontent on your fan page’s wall. What do you do? Delete them? No! You respond respectfully and send the consumers’ opinions up the ladder to the marketing communications department. The marcom department, after dealing with problem at hand, should send it up to the business strategy arm. If you don’t have a business strategy arm, you should. Immediately, decisions should be made as to what to do with the information. It’s not a matter of how to stop this consumer belief from impacting your brand, because it IS your brand now. The matter is, how do you change it. Brand perception is no longer a top-down activity, it’s a bottom-up enterprise and social is your inroad to the perception. What you do, what you say, how your brand reacts on social will have an immediate effect, positive or negative to your brand. This process requires a new model of communication similar to that, which was introduced in the book, “The Brand Gap” by Marty Neumeier.

New Messaging Platform

*From “The Brand Gap,” Marty Neumeier

One item of note, the brand and social “strategy” are not solid, concrete action plans. Think of them as an organic, living system that’s ever changing. People’s beliefs change and your brand will have to evolve along with.

Your social communication should have a clear, precise path to the decision makers in your company. If your decision makers can’t hear what your consumers are saying about your brand, then you have lost what little control over brand perception you had. Your consumers are speaking about your brand through your social channels to, what they perceive as, people who can change things. Why not send that message fast and direct? The longer you avoid a clear, established, path from social media to the brand decision makers, the longer it will take to recover, redefine, or reinforce your brand perception and ultimately, your bottom line.

*Econsultancy, July 2009

I Will Be Attending @SXSW Interactive

Big news! I’m heading to SXSWi next Friday and yes, I can barely contain my excitement. I will be there from the 11th-15th learning some new practices, introduced to new start-ups, engaging with technology, and hopefully meeting some amazing people. This will be my first time going to SXSW and my first time visiting Austin, TX.

I will be traveling with some coworkers from Critical Mass and we’re going to paint the town, intellectually speaking of course. Some of the sessions that I’m going to be focusing on are “Branding/Marketing” and “Social Graph.” It fits, right? I mean, I work in social media with a secondary passion in branding. (It’s going to be awesome!)

This event requires a lot of prep work. For starters, the schedule of sessions and events is large and full of, what sounds like, amazing content and lecturers. As I complied my schedule for the 5 days that will be down there, I came to realize that there is no possible way I can attend all the sessions. I had to be selective with the sessions I wanted, weigh the pros and cons, realize I can’t be in two places at once, so I had to choose the best session of the time. And it’s because of that, I believe this will be an extraordinary experience.

Another aspect of prep work that is requiring a lot of diligence is the travel. Yes, my flight and hotel are all taken care of, but when it comes to traveling in the Austin area, that may prove to be a bit more difficult. I found a shuttle service that runs from my hotel to the convention center. I think that might be the winner there. If that falls through, there are always cabs, right?

A while ago, I wrote a blog post about how I love working with and being around smart people. Here we go again and I can’t be more psyched! Not only am I heading down with some of the most talented and intelligent coworkers I’ve had the pleasure to work with, but we’re all going down to meet and learn from some of the most engaging and intelligent people from the nation and around the world.

So, what do I hope to take away from SXSWi? Well, I hope to learn more about social media and branding so I can bring that back that knowledge back to the team here in Chicago. I also hope to make industry connections, share my experiences, learn from others’ experiences, and overload my brain with knowledge and insights. The way I look at it, the more I learn and the more people I meet at SXSWi, the more I can offer my clients and Critical Mass. Professional development is something I don’t take lightly and it’s an ongoing process.

And then, there is the “fun” part of SXSW; the parties. I think I have triple booked myself for all of the evening parties. I don’t think that’s going to be a big deal. After all, my first priority is to learn down there and my last one is to rage it up all night. I’m thinking that I’m going to take the parties as they come and call an “audible” on the ground as they are not high priority in my book. However, I really want to attend the Mashable House — I heard that’s a killer party.

I depart for Austin on Friday and as I said before, I’ll be there until the following Wednesday. You can follow my travels and learnings by reading my tweets: @ebreakdown, following this hashtag: #cmsxsw, or by reading the blog: ebreakdown. Honestly, I probably will be tweeting more than blogging down there just because of time constraints. If you have any suggestions for enhancing my SXSW experience, I’m welcome to them! Also, if you are going to be down there and want to meet up, shoot me a tweet — we’ll make it happen.

Recap: The Chicago Auto Show

Saturday, I had the opportunity to check out the 2011 Chicago Auto Show with my brother Eric. Now, I for one absolutely love auto shows. Perhaps I love them because I grew up liking automobiles, maybe it’s because I’m a guy and guys “like that sort of thing,” or maybe it’s because auto shows are just plain cool. Regardless, auto shows are fun and this year’s show illustrated how integrated our culture is becoming with technology and communications. I noticed two activities the auto manufacturers were investing in, they were social media interaction and interactive, on-site engagement.

Social
Social was a very large component in the majority of the large auto manufacturers’ displays. Here is a rundown of how some the auto companies engaged socially.

• Volkswagon: Upon arrival to the Auto Show, I checked into the Chicago Auto Show via Foursquare. Very soon after, I received a tweet from @VWConnect stating, “Stop by the VW booth to see the all-new Jetta GLI & find out how to get a free T-shirt,” with a TwitPic of a VW GLI. Yes, it was a bot Twitter account, but it served its purpose. I was immediately intrigued by what they had going on and that they were engaging me based upon my location. I headed over to the VW booth to find out more.

I came up to the new model year Passat and noticed it had a CTA image on the vehicle. The image directed me to take a listen to the stereo, tweet about it, and find a Product Specialist. Well, I bypassed those directions and went to the Product Specialist. She was there with T-Shirts in hand, standing right next to the vehicle. She informed me that had I tweeted about the vehicle, she would have taken down some information (for direct mail purposes) and given me a VW t-shirt to take home.

    Pros: VW was highly engaged both online and off. The incentive was adequate for the promotional needs. It was a great way of directing online, to a socially engaged, real-life specialist.
    Cons: Twitter bots are sometimes overwhelming and people don’t respond to them that well. Taking down my information after I did all those steps for VW, was a big of a large ask.

• Audi: Audi used location based services to generate awareness and engagement. Audi featured a couple of signs that directed the public to check into the Audi booth via both Foursquare and Facebook Places. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t much of an incentive to do so. However, I have to say this: I didn’t check in. So, with that said, who knows what was on the other side of the check-in. Either way, it wasn’t mentioned on the signage what would happen if you did check in.

    Pros: Promoting the use of location based services through signage.
    Cons: No real or clear incentive to check-in to the services.

• Chrysler: Chrysler had a simple black-and-white flyer they handed out to attendees of the show. One side featured all of their social accounts with a CTA that asked the attendees to become a fan of their pages and upload images, video and editorial from their experience at the show.

The second side was a CTA to engage the brand through text messaging. Text “Chrysler” to a number, explore the booths, answer questions that were texted back, and get a reward at the information desk. The rewards varied from an eco-friendly bag to a 3-for-1 oil change. A good use of texting, however, it seemed to be a bit of an arduous task.

    Pros: Using texting instead of social to interact with the attendees was different from most OEMs. The 3-for-1 oil change reward was pretty good.
    Cons: Attendees have to pay for the texts. Who knows when else Chrylser will text the attendees. And the photocopied flyers were a very passive approach to social media.

• Chevrolet: Chevrolet had a “bullet-time” photo booth in conjunction with Hot Wheels. Attendees waited in line to get their photo taken in front a Chevy vehicle, were offered a physical copy of the photography, and had the option to post that photo on Facebook or other social media platform.

I didn’t participate in this one; the line was way too long. However, I can only assume Chevy got a great turn out, a lot of social information on attendees, and the offer for participation was pretty innovative. I mean really, where else can you get a photo of yourself in bullet time?

    Pros: Innovate and interactive booth with a social component on the backend.
    Cons: Very long line to wait.

• AutoTrader: AutoTrader, much like VW, had a Twitter bot engage the attendees after an Auto Show Foursquare check-in. Their tweet read, “Thanks for joining us at the Chicago Auto Show! Fly by AutoTrader.com’s booth with this tweet for a prize” offered a clear call to action with a plus up incentive. If it was anything like the LA Auto Show, you get a picture with someone you’ve never heard of, a pencil and a small carrying case. I admit, I didn’t try this one either; I already have a pencil.

    Pros: A quick social response with an incentive back end.
    Cons: Again, a Twitter bot engagement tactic. However, with that said, how else would we know to go over to the booth?

Interactive
The second major piece of the Chicago Auto Show were interactive displays. The auto manufacturers really stepped up their game this year. Let me quickly go through some of the more memorable displays.

Overall: QR Codes were in heavy use with every sort of CTA ranging from vehicle information, to connecting on Facebook, to engaging dealerships. It seems as though QR codes are becoming more prevalent in the industry and used more by the public.

Honda: Honda had an “X-Ray” like display. Basically, there was an image on a wall of a Honda minivan. There was a screen on rails affixed above the image. The attendee would move the screen back and forth over the image to give a detailed, x-ray like, look at the vehicle. The display didn’t work all that well, but the public didn’t seem to mind as they enjoyed just playing around with it.

Fiat: Fiat used an X-Box Kinect interface. An attendee would stand behind the kiosk, waive their hands and interact with a large television screen filled with images and information. The attendee would select one of the images, an informative piece, or video would display and the attendee selected another one. This display had a very high level of interaction and a clear description on how to use it. However, the screen was pretty distant and made it difficult to read the information.

Scion: Scion used 3D video to engage the attendees. The Product Specialists gave out the glasses and all you had to do, as an attendee, was sit down and watch a 3D Scion movie. It was pretty simple, however, offered little interaction.

Chevrolet Volt: The booth for the Volt alone, was larger than some of the other auto manufacturer’s booths overall. The Volt offered a serene test track that allowed the attendees to ride in the car through a beautifully landscaped roadway. Once you walk up to the track, you are inundated with the smell of fresh plants, trees and grass. The attendee didn’t get to drive the Volt around the track, which was about the size of a large go-kart track, they were chauffeured. The line to get in the Volt wrapped around the track. It was a site to see and a calming booth to visit with all the foliage.

Toyota: Toyota’s Prius display was pretty large, bright, and spoke to the “Prius Goes Plural” campaign. At the base of the booth, was a station to charge your mobile phone. Toyota offered, from what it seemed, every type of mobile phone chargers. I think Toyota understood perfectly what type of world we live in right now. Also, when the attendee charged their phones, a Product Specialist would sit with them to chat. I’m not one to be suckered into this sort of conversation, but when you need your phone charged, you will do just about anything.

So, that was just a part of my experience at the auto show. I truly do enjoy auto shows; the designs of the cars, the booth displays, and the unique approaches auto manufacturers use to get our attention. However, one major downside to the show was the shear amount of people in attendance. I think the flow of the show needs to be reevaluated from a perspective of the volume of people. That was just about the only downside, and looking at it from a marketing perspective, it’s certainly an upside.

Shout Out: Thank you Lindsay for the tickets!

Brand Follower Expectations Are Changing in Social Media

We have all seen the numbers, seen the stats and have seen how fast social media is taking off. We are trying our best to create audiences, promote product, educate users and become influencers for the brand’s new market. Marketing industry professionals, myself included, are eager to sign clients, create promotion strategy, sort out metrics and compile analytics. To what end?

I’m not saying that we’re blind to what we are doing here, quite the contrary. What I am saying is, even though social media is new, it’s evolving already.

All of us, including the users and brand followers, are creating a revolution in the marketing world. All of us in some capacity, are improving the networks and driving innovation and expectations further. Never before have we seen such immediate communication between the sellers and the buyers. Social media marketing is fairly new to the advertising/marketing/communication world and it’s changing faster than we can assimilate at times.

What sometimes slips through our cracks is the end user’s expectations of the rapid evolution of social media. Brand followers and customers are not stupid. And in all honesty, they never really were, we just treated them like that. That needs to change. The driving force in the next steps of social media marketing will be adapting to the expectations of the brand follower/user/customer.

For a while now, new media marketers have been set to a standard of post, link, editorial, post, link, editorial, and engagement when needed. Where content is king (whatever that means) and the flow of information is the most important asset any company has. Users, from what I have noticed, are starting to expect more out of the brands they follow. They are starting to understand what marketers are doing, which is basically conventional advertising and marketing practices guised as social media.

So, what do I foresee what brand followers will expect out of us in the near future? It’s hard to tell exactly what the evolution will be. However, if you look at the big picture, you start to notice behavioral changes. Here are a few ideas.

    BRAND PERSONALITY OFFICER
    Brand followers were fine, for a while, with brands just pushing information out on them. Followers liked the idea of “liking” their favorite brand and telling their friends about it. However, the brands have become too passive. To speak to a follower, you need to be able to speak TO them, not at them, or wait for them to speak to your brand. Followers will start to expect a “Brand Personality Officer” to interact with while online and one who creates and fulfills the personality of the brand to the followers. The BPO’s mission will be to engage with brand followers utilizing their own personality mixed with that of the mission of the brand. “Speak as if you ARE Brand X.” If the brand doesn’t have anyone to speak with, the user will most likely pull the plug on the “follow.”

    INCENTIVES
    Why do your brand’s followers actually follow you? What is in it for the brand followers other than a link on their Facebook page and a post twice a day? Incentive based social media marketing has already popped up on the grid but, we need to press further. Rewarding the followers of the brand that have taken the time to view your page or feed is the right thing to do and, in all honesty, the followers are wanting, if not expecting it. Service with a smile and a free cup of coffee.

    USER GENERATED CONTENT IS KING
    It once was said that, “Content is King” in the land of social media. Well, that was true about a year ago. But now, as we press forward and engage with our followers, the brand followers want to engage with “their” brand, they are thirsting for it.* Imitation is the best form of flattery. Allowing and promoting brand followers in generating their own content and sharing it with the brand, even if it’s crappy, is a gold mine of promotion.** Think of it, you as a marketer don’t even have to spend anything to promote your brand, they’re doing it for you and they are happy, if not, eager to do it! Give them the avenue and the “incentive” to do so.

    * Brand followers have a belief that their favorite brands are actually “their” brands.
    ** One key thing about User Generated Content, is the “Brand Personality Officer” needs to comment on it, thank and engage the follower for doing so.

These are just some observations and predictions I have as to the future of online marketing to brand followers. What is the common denominator with all of these? The brand follower wants to be engaged by the brand and wants some sense that there is a person behind the curtain they have access to. The brand followers are going to be expecting more out of the brand and us as marketers. We have to be ready to foresee and adapt to their changing expectations.

->> PS: These are merely observations and not based upon any sort of analytic, just in case you were wondering.