It used to be that branding was more or less straightforward. Mind you, it was never easy — one of my favorite marketing professors from undergrad used to say “A good Brand is like your friend; you can describe what your friend is like to another friend”. The more concisely you can convey your purpose, vision, meaning, and differentiation, the better job you have done at branding yourself. But with social media, just because you as the company say something about your product, does not make people run out and purchase it.
In some respects branding fundamentals are still the same. You are still vying for mindshare in an increasingly noisy marketplace, where you are trying to out-innovate your competitors, while also out-communicating your innovation. Your job is still to find a niche in people’s brains that’s not previously occupied and occupy it. The end goal is the same: you want to own that association, you want to be the first thing that comes to mind. Try this: “Nike” is to “personal athletic achievement” as “iPod” is to “MP3 player” as “Method” is to “good for you AND environment household cleaners” as “your product type or category” to “first that comes to mind.” Whoever’s name comes up first in this exercise, wins the game of association in your industry. Of course, one of the ways to win mindshare in a crowded market is to redrew the boundaries. “Blue Ocean Strategy” by Kim and Mauborgne focuses exactly on that — making your competition irrelevant by redefining the market you serve, the pain point and your solution to the pain point.
As if defining your brand and carrying it through all media wasn’t hard enough, now the company message is confounded with the many messages that are generated by customers and even (check this out!) non-customers. Everyone’s got an opinion, and it matters — all tweets, regardless of how many followers that person has, are important. As Thomas Knoll said “Let me know which of my customers isn’t influential to their friends & family & I’ll take them off our influencer list”, which is a stance that I wish more companies would practice.
That being said, there’s definitely a place for “influencer campaigns” where you give people with a special relationship to your industry (analysts, bloggers, industry experts, etc) something special, be it a behind-the-scenes look, advanced copy of the product, free product for evaluation, etc. The key here is to create a win-win: the “influencer” gets something special and ahead of others, while the company may (or may not) receive coverage in press or on their blog.
In addition to users, non-users, press, and other community members, the company’s partners and employees are absolutely key to establishing the brand that you want to have. How do you navigate this complex web of multi-directional conversations? How can you help shape the brand, even though you can no longer control it? How do you turn your community into advocates, and address negative word of mouth, while (hopefully) turning “badvocates” into advocates? We are putting together a webinar this Thursday at 11 a.m. PST, in which we will address these questions, and more. We will have several case studies on what has worked in developing anything from a advocacy to a full-on movement. We will also have Zappos’ Thomas Knoll as a special guest to share his community philosophy and Zappos’ service-centric culture’s impact on advocacy and word-of-mouth. For full details and to register, visit the GoToWebinar site.