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The Web Solutions Blog: January 2010


Branding in the Age of Social Media.

1.18.2010  by WebSolutions

Brand Socialization

A brand is a customer experience represented by a collection of images and ideas. Brand recognition and loyalty are created by a customer’s accumulation of experiences with a specific product or service, both directly relating to its use, and through the influence of advertising, design, and media commentary.

Not that long ago, brand management was a monologue. A company’s brand was crafted in a conference room and doled out to the masses, “It’s new, it’s improved…it’s the best!” Even if the product failed to deliver on its brand promise, a company could do well in sales before it became widely known that it was putting out subpar products or services that its market did not embrace.

The advent of social media has spawned a new age of extreme customer participation that now poses a challenge for brand managers. The brand monologue has become a dialogue and formal research will do little if you’re not listening to customers and prospects online. Those who trust friends to help them make decisions now consult huge online networks on the fly.

With that in mind, it is not a stretch to say that your brand is owned in part (if not completely) by your customers, and you're the brand steward. What they've come to believe, what they expect and what they share openly about your brand is your brand.

Though some control is given to customers in this ever-more-social environment, it is traded for a much more engaged customer base, the opportunity to create a large number of advocates, and mine for data that can lead to new and improved product offerings.

In a trend called crowdsourcing, companies of all sizes, from Internet startups to household names like Campbell’s, MacDonalds and Coca-Cola are finding success in the world of the new consumer by socializing with them and engaging them in the marketing process. When consumers have input on a product and feel they have contributed to the advertising process, they feel a kinship with the brand, fueling brand loyalty.

Setting the Stage

Clarify

Because you do cede some control to your customers, it is more important than ever that the parts that you do control are firmly in your grasp. Define your mission, vision, desirable attributes, your competitive position, important targets, and what you'd like them to think and do.

Get to the Core

The longer and more complex your message, the greater the likelihood of it being misinterpreted by those you hope will espouse it. Make it simple for people to share what you want them to by refining your main message to its basic and memorable core.

Know Where to Reach Them

Different messages will resonate with different target groups. Once you’re clear on who those targets are, listening is a good way to find messages that will make them care about your products or services.

Get Personal

These days, everything is a lifestyle product and people want things they can connect with emotionally and things that reflect their beliefs. Give them something to believe in and you’ll get deep, long-lasting loyalty in return.

Stand Out and Together

Obviously differentiating yourself from the competition should be a key component of any marketing strategy but it is critical to deliver those points of differentiation, whether visual or verbal, consistently across all mediums of communications.

With those pieces in place, you're ready to socialize your brand.

Guide the Vision

Though you may never again control all aspects of your brand, you can certainly influence those that you cannot control. By listening and adjusting, you can reinforce your brand promise. Fail to engage and negative stories will take on a life of their own.

Tune In

For better or worse people will talk about your brand whether or not you’re paying attention. That is out of your control. What is within your control is how involved you are in the conversation and what you do with the information gathered during those conversations. Being an involved participant will go a long way to making your brand appear well supported and responsive to its customer base…two things every strong brand should be.

Let Them See You

Every business has information they'd like to keep close to the chest but that information often makes its way out. Instead of denying and hiding from it, own the information. Hearing it from you will help customers appreciate your candidness and result in more positive outcomes.

Fire Up the Experience.

Recognize that your company and your products’ brands are experiences. The new consumer isn't likely to buy your product if the experience isn't favorable at every point from positive customer feedback in online searches to a web site that is engaging and intuitive to post-purchase customer service.

Take Action

Though this may seem like a lot of information, the most important thing to keep in mind is that despite the new tools, channels and rules of brand engagement, a lot of what you know is still applicable. Branding is still about developing relationships, creating interest, understanding, participation, and trust.

Don’t let your brand be the wall flower at the new consumer dance. Give us a call. From brand strategy development to perception research and winning social media strategies, Web Solutions’ full-service capabilities give you the tools to succeed in the new age of branding.

Tune in.

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