The 60s and 70s were about products and services marketed to ‘captive’ audiences in front of TVs watching set programmes at set times. In the 80s and 90s, audiences became segmented and brands gained balance sheet value. Then it all went digital with access to information and on-line shopping. Now, almost without us noticing, brands have gone social. The trade-off for the exponential opportunity this represents is loss of ability to control communication, audiences and content. This is the new world we call social branding.
Brands are still a central part of marketing communications, so ‘sub-social’ brand investment was worthwhile. But with everyone now contributing to brand reputation, good or bad, brand management has become more complex, harder and uncertain. We have entered uncharted territory – so what’s in our brand tool kit has to change too.
Differentiating, compelling and true propositions, consistently delivered in often unknown touch-points in this social world, are constantly under the ‘authenticity’ microscope. This uncontrollable audience focus drives our need for careful strategic navigation rather than tactical reaction, otherwise our brands risk disappearing into a dark hole of oblivion.
Social brands are about conversations; listening, engaging and managing reputation. Communications have leaped from one way traditional campaigns to infinite relationships. The iconic enabling symbol of our age is the iPhone; not just a cool looking device, it’s about connectivity. And ownership tells everyone you inhabit the connected world. A world where our brands need to live.
Connectivity has unleashed the powerful new concept of social branding and its impact has only just begun! To survive, brands, now more than ever, need to be relevant and be trusted, whenever and wherever, passive or active, always reliable in delivering and exceeding expectations, but never ever inaccessible.
People are now only one click away from perfect jobs, ideal products and damning reviews. ‘Brand utility’, where the brand creates something useful to you, has created new dimensions of connecting people with friends and others who work, study and live around them (e.g. Facebook), aggregating product offerings and simplifying complexity (Compare the Market) or providing personal choice (e.g. Spotify).
This disruption of traditional marketing is just one way that social media disrupts conventional brand communication models and in so doing necessitates different behaviours, attitudes and actions for brands to stay relevant.
In this environment social brands need to clearly differentiate through enduring compelling and true propositions; augmented by demonstrating openness, transparency and authenticity. Brand currency is enhanced through detachable and user generated content and uncontrollable user advocacy. Brand advocacy ‘people-powers’ social brands with audiences, as if watching X-Factor, deciding whether propositions are really relevant – if not they bomb, there’s nowhere to hide in this environment.
So let me ask again, what’s in your brand tool kit now? If it’s anything like ours, along with traditional marcomms it will include some new goodies; strategies for managing online reputation and engagement with influencer networks, brand outposts to put the brand where audiences are and social currency to make our brand valuable in a new world. It includes ‘listen and engage’ measurement tools with real-time dashboard modelling to make sense of this new rich vein of engagement, guiding informed decision making on our brand’s journey. Importantly, we will include an engagement programme for internal as well as external audiences because social branding is not just about ‘marketing’ it is about the way we communicate across every part of our business.
Like it or not, we’re all on this social brand journey and our success will rely on making informed choices enabling us to build social currency and become trusted sources of engagement. Scary or exciting? You choose. It’s your social brand’s future.