social internet

Brand value is not about control of social media.

I was attending a digital marketing conference last week and I heard a speaker talking about social media say, and I quote, ‘The value of a brand is diminished because we, marketers, have less control.’ That’s right – I did a double-take too, but he repeated the same incendiary statement. I struggled to understand what was being said. In my view, the value of a brand has nothing to do with levels of control. Its values are intrinsic, and there is more likelihood of them being damaged by heavy-handed attempts at control. There is a high measure of arrogance on behalf of marketers who overestimate their own influence upon a brand. Ultimately, a brand’s value is the product of transactions between the brand and its audiences – marketers may act as stewards and facilitators, but controllers is overstating their role I would suggest.

There are aspects of the brand, mainly in terms of communications, over which marketers may have a degree of control, but in the final analysis it is how the brand performs in its direct relationship with the public that matters.

In the early days of social media one of the biggest issues (and the greatest misunderstanding) was around ‘control’. Managers were fearful of relinquishing or losing control of the communications media. The truth was that their measure of influence was already far less than they believed. Conversations were already taking place around brands with or without their intervention. The great quality that social media can deliver is engagement, which is almost in inverse proportion to control.  Engagement is about listening conversing and responding – not about control.

Ten Brand New Year resolutions

What kind of a year will 2010 be for brands? Well, 2009 was quite up and down and we seemed to be rocked by events both economical and commercial, so I guess one watchword for 2010 must be to take as much control for the destinies of our brands as we can. So here are my personal thoughts on 10 Brand New Year resolutions – you will have your own I’m sure, so please feel free to share.

  1. Put brand leadership centre stage – put your brand firmly at the heart of your organisations and operations. Add the brand as an item on all meeting agendas – even your board meeting.
  2. Be sustainable – take a look at the Green Brands 2009 report that I mentioned in my last post. Sustainability will become less of a differentiator and more of a critical success factor.
  3. Don’t let operational issues become brand problems – we’ve seen some disasters in the recent past; BA, Eurostar, McClaren etc. But things will go wrong in life – that we let them become a communications disaster should not follow.  Get your ‘spill drill’ in place ready, so you won’t have to go and hide in the ‘No-Comment Hotel’.
  4. Ditch your mission statement – if you still have one. The world is changing, your corporate and brand values are too. Your vision should be shared… values come out of the organisation and are the product of the beliefs your people share, not something imposed from above.
  5. Do a values audit – talk to your people, ask them what they think are the values of your brand – then do the same with customers… it’s amazing, but if you ask people things, sometimes they will just tell you! Then compare them to your own views.
  6. Watch your competitors – not just from an aggressive (or defensive) standpoint, but look what they are doing right – what they do better than you –  admit when they do something very well and learn.
  7. Evaluate your brand – try to put a price on it. There are sophisticated models for brand valuation, if you are big enough you probably use them already – but even if you control a relatively modest brand, take a stab at what it’s worth to you. Perhaps estimate how much you have invested in your brand in advertising, marcomms and brand communications over the years? Or, if a competitor wanted to licence your brand how much would you charge?
  8. Talk to people – social media, love it or hate it, is a powerful force. People will be talking about you and your brand like never before. Get involved in those communications – stimulate and initiate discussions, but above all… listen.
  9. Be ‘arsed’ – it’s the details that make such a difference and say so much about your brand and your attitude to it and to your customers.
  10. Take a day off – when I do training or coaching sessions (usually off-site if I can) one thing clients always find most of value is just getting out of the business for a day and taking the ‘helicopter view’ of their business. So, why not have a ‘brand day’ once a month?

Okay, I’ve shown you mine, now show me yours?

Facebook – the big brand arena

“Overwhelming majority of big US brands are on Facebook

by Dan Leahul, Brand Republic 10-Aug-09, 09:15

Having worked for many major US brands, I find this article fascinating. For me,  Facebook is a powerful tool for brands and as the above article states many major brands are having incredible success – but it can also be a dangerous pool to swim in as brands equally expose themselves to attack. To really engage with a brand’s audience via social media means relinquishing a great deal of control – not something that comes naturally to many established US brands, in my experience.

Key to success through social media is to understand that it is not about communication… it is about conversations. It is as important (if not more so) to listen as well as talk. If customers, employees or others are saying bad things about your brand, listen, be honest, and if there is some foundation… take action. If you are conducting your business in an honest and ethical manner there there should be minimal scope for brand damage – the good should outweigh the bad.

That so many major US brands should have been prepared to relinquish a good measure of control is a pointer for us all. I find that it is often lesser brands who are more paranoid about what they see as the anarchic nature of social internet. Paradoxically, it is also for these brands that it presents some of the most cost effective opportunities.

Ultimately, it is about brand confidence: if you believe in your brand get out their and talk about it. Engage in those conversations… and above all listen! At the very least it will save you a shedload of money on focus groups.

Brands and social networking

I have long advocated the use of social networking in brand developent – it seems so fundamental to what brand awareness is about, people talking to each other about the brand.

Well, for uk brand owners and promoters there is an even stronger case for including social internet in the branding mix. It seems we brits top the league in social Internet use.

UK leading social network use

Brits average 5.8 hours per month on social networking sites

Yet still major companies are missing the opportunities:

Businesses fail to tap social networking

Gartner identifies major challenges for corporates

MePLC – forget the brand as person model, what about the person as brand?

I get very bemused by the way the media, and indeed the wider public,  has latched onto the idea of the brand – today, everything is a brand. I’m not going to irritate my ulcer by trying to define when it is or is not right to refer to something or someone as ‘a brand’. During the recent US primaries, there was much talk of the Obama brand and the Clinton brand. I struggled for a while over whether this was a useful way of looking at the candidates as having a brand – having something that had a life beyond that of the candidates. I had to conclude that there was some currency and utility in looking at the ‘brands’ as the brand represented values and actions that extended beyond the individual.

Now I look at phenomena such as reality television and social internet: with Facebook, Utube and MySpace, everyone seems striving to become a brand. It’s MePLC.

Well, that’s gone too far I think. John Smith with his blog, his space, his twitter is not a brand – he is John Smith. People may strive for celebrity and we may all look for our 15 minutes of fame, but let us rejoice in the reality of our own personality.

More missing the point.

Hmmm… so in another effort to help protect us from ourselves, the government are suggesting banning all show of logo’s etc. for cigarette merchandising. I am constantly amazed at politicians confusion between the brand and brand communications… but it does present an interesting thought exercise.

If cigarette brands (or any other brands for that matter) are banned from communicating their brand or using their brand assets, where will brand differentiation come from? I guess in ancient times before we had many formal brand communication, Eli the bowmaker made fine bows. One expert bowman might ask another where he got his bow, to be told it is one of Eli’s bows. So, it is word of mouth, stimulating conversations and generating viral brand communication. So are we likely to see cigarette brands exist in the world of personal conversations?  Will there be a flowering of smokers’ blogs? Are we talking Fag 2.0?

Sadly we will probably never know because such a fascinating social experiment will never happen as another sound bite idea is destined to end up under the Westminster sink with the yogurt maker and the multi-chopper.

Managing multiple personalities

There was a recent article in the New York Times, discussing how individuals present themselves in virtual worlds and the social internet. The author referred to the work of psychologist and sociologist, Erving Goffman who used the analogy of theatrical performance for the way we present ourselves to others in the world.

We all have multiple identities in this life – parent, child, workmate, lover, friend, enemy, teacher, pupil etc.  In the virtual world of social internet we present ourselves in various ways and manage out identities by subtle means. We choose or usernames or screen names to convey meaning; the interests we choose to list, the books and the music – out of all the things we could list, we are very selective to create subtle impressions, even though we often do this partly subconsciously.

Brands to do this: there are the explicit and overt things they do – the copy, the selection of images, the clients they choose to list. If we follow the brand as person model, it is like a person choosing to list Wittgenstein and Dickens in their book list rather than Jeffrey Archer and Harry Potter, where a brand might select multinationals with spotless records rather than dodgy arms dealers or polluting manufacturers.

Waitrose gets social

On the News Quiz on Radio 4, Sandi Toksvig said; “the only purpose of Sainsburys is to keep the riffraff out of Waitrose”. It is testament to the power of brand positioning that we all knew what she meant and were able to laugh at it.  But, hey: look what’s happening Waitrose! Their website is embracing social internet with blogs, forums and lots more.

Who knows, maybe they will even be successful in engaging with riffraff like me. Anyway the site is well worth a look and a lesson to retailers on how to harness social internet, even if Waitrose have still have not plucked up the courage to give up total control.