Tag Archives: brand

Us Against the World

Someone once explained to me the difference between a solo artist and a band.  A solo artist is saying “Hey look at me!” And a band is saying “Us against the world.”

One of the most powerful things you can do in your content is to declare your membership in a small group (that consists of your users) against the world.  Harold Ramis used this construction in his successful 70’s comedies like Caddyshack and Animal House.  The slobs banded together against the snobs.  The outsiders became a family.  There’s something very primal about this construction. It taps into something deep inside us– tribal allegiance, teamwork, and disdain for the Establishment. It really only works for attacker brands, but in those circumstances, it can be very effective.

Cadillac’s new spot is a perfect example of this.  It positively asserts some of the values that are likely to resonate with the Cadillac target buyer– value of hard work, ambition, and enjoying luxuries you have earned.

Better yet, it intensifies this by It antagonizing the sort of people who will never buy a Cadillac.  It ridicules some of their sacred cows (like Europe).  The reaction to this spot in my personal group of overeducated urban haute bourgeoisie friends has been an outraged howl of indignant pain.

(Ironically, this ad ran during Super Bowl and the Olympics and no one noticed; but put something like this on the Oscars and listen to the howls.  Context is king.)

The brilliance of the spot is this:  Cadillac has no other options.  The brand is up against the wall.  It’s certainly in no position to call itself the choice of the smart set so it might as well make a virtue of necessity.  It can’t play the elegant European card like Mercedes and BMW.  It can hardly play the quality manufacturing card like Lexus and Infiniti.  But by loudly asserting that it is the choice of the brash and unapologetically successful it becomes an attacker rather than defensive.

Think of their historic positioning.  Who exactly buys a Cadillac?  What emotions does the brand evoke?  For me it’s about elderly people in Boca Raton who drive slowly in the left lane.  And who don’t know better.  Mobsters, too.  The nouveau riche.

Subaru nation despises the Cadillac brand and these archetypes.  Whole Foods nation despises it.  NPR Nation despises it.  (I think they missed the point that the car is electric, which usually is the highest good in those communities.). What does Cadillac have to lose?  Toyota can’t pull this off. They have to be Ned Flanders and be nice to everyone.  Cadillac takes the snobs vs slobs positioning of Animal House and Caddyshack and puts themselves on the side of the heroes.  (This is CADILLAC– the most Eisenhower 50’s establishment brand there is.  Probably what Judge Smails drove.)

What was the last Cadillac ad you remember?  The brand has been Nice for a long time.  And nice is a defensive posture.   You don’t conquer new markets when you’re nice.  Niceness is not a virtue– it’s a default, the opposite of making a choice.  (As Sondheim says “You’re not good/ you’re not bad/ you’re just nice.“)

Cadillac had been cringing.  But the emotion the brand evokes now goes from embarrassment to cocky.    Not every competitive scenario demands this sort of decisiveness, but in a crowded, mature space like this, it’s a brilliant move.

Next time identify how your users think of themselves.  Are they insiders or outsiders?  Who do they identify with?  Who represents everything they’re not?  Give your users a chance to say “Us against the World.”  Like Steve Jobs said– it’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the Navy.

P.S.  It’s also not lost on me that this ode to self-reliance comes from a company that got bailed out by the Federal government.  Irony is fun.

Photo Credit: Dr. Xu 徐醫生 via Compfight cc

Pope Francis: Marketer of the Year

In Media, segmentation is destiny.  It’s much easier to be best in the world when you have a tightly defined target segment.  (News for Financial Professionals is easy; news for the average citizen is hard.)  It’s easy to define their problems, it’s easy to understand what emotions the audience feels about the brand, and it’s easy to develop coherent content.

However, as the focus goes back from one tightly defined segment to a broader market, more segments appear, and the message starts to get fuzzy.  This problem comes up regularly for household names– Tide, Coke, Apple.  For a widely known brand, should they focus on their heavy users– who supply the money that keeps the brand in business– or on popular opinion more generally (which includes many people who don’t shop there or even refuse to shop there)?

The answer varies, but it always involves a thoughtful cost/benefit analysis.  A few examples:

  • Should GE worry about people who buy aircraft engines, or the general public?  As a mainly B2B company with direct sales forces, GE focuses its social media on appearing worthy and virtuous to the general public.  They aren’t going to sell a nuclear reactor on Twitter.  But they certainly can reach other stakeholders like voters and investors.  The Badass Machines Pinterest board, the #ecomagination hashtag, even the “We Bring Good Things to Life” TV campaign are about reaching you and me, not buyers.  They need to ensure that nobody sees them as the big bad wolf, and starts to regulate them aggressively.  They also don’t want to scare off investors like pension funds, who don’t need the headaches of a controversial stock.  GE needs to be seen as a good neighbor, and that’s what their B2C advertising is all about.  In the grand scheme, it doesn’t cost GE much, and it’s useful insurance for the brand.
  • WalMart is regularly criticized for having a low-paid workforce.  Recently, their critics dragged Mike Rowe into it, claiming that because he did voiceover on an ad, he must be an advocate of their practices.  So far, Wal-Mart has not attempted to address these labor critics via social media, but have allowed proxies (like Rowe) to do a decent job of defending them.  Wal-Mart knows who its core customers are, and they know that its critics are very unlikely to start shopping there, for cultural reasons as much as economic reasons.  Why bother chasing people who you can’t convert?  No matter how much they spend, they will not convince the haute bourgeoisie to shop there.  The brand would have to change too much to become acceptable.  (Equally, don’t try to sell Whole Foods to NASCAR fans.)  People join brands, and being clear about what you stand for can be powerful, even if not everyone agrees with you.
  • Monsanto has done more for homo sapiens than any other company I can name, by vastly increasing the productivity of agriculture.  Without them and other biotech companies, we would either have food shortages globally, or 3x as much land under cultivation (and very little rain forest left).  People in agriculture and food industry understand the benefits that come from Monsanto’s work.  But people who are less informed on agriculture and food tend to have a negative opinion of them.  How much time should Monsanto spend on educating the agriculturally underinformed?  What’s the cost/benefit?  Will consumers really push back against GMO corn when it’s in over half of what they buy at the supermarket?  Or are the complaints coming from angry people on the fringe?  How seriously should Monsanto take their complaints?

One global brand that has done a remarkable job of reaching out to those outside its core segment is the Catholic Church.  And it’s almost entirely the work of Pope Francis.  The Holy Father has made some remarkably appealing decisions, most of which directly confront the popular positioning of the Catholic Church as Rich, Homophobic, and Out-of-Touch.  In the United States, he is more popular than the Catholic Church.  There’s a good summary of his actions here, but here are a few data points that have come out in the last several months.

  • He has 3.7 million followers on Twitter (not Bieberesque yet, but remarkable for a 78-year-old clergyman)
  • He has publicly refused the trappings of wealth, and dresses simply.
  • He leaves messages on nuns’ answering machines
  • He gives people lifts in his car
  • He kisses lepers
  • He meets with boat people
  • He has said with reference to the GLBT community, “Who am I to judge”
  • He accidentally used the Italian version of the F-word when speaking at St Peter’s.

All these are tremendously powerful data points that are in contrast to longstanding feelings that the church was pompous, rich and out of touch.  And interestingly enough, he holds many unfashionable views which are in lockstep with Catholic orthodoxy, but doesn’t seem to be attacked for them.

He is more popular outside the church than any Pope in memory.  And there’s the rub.  How do you define success for the Catholic Church?  Is it to get more converts?  In which segments?  Reduce churn?  Bring peace to the Earth?  It is with no disrespect that I say the Church needs to decide what success looks like in order to succeed.  Has any of this increased attendance at Mass?  Increased donations?  Increased the number of new priests and nuns?  Or is it enough to just make non-Catholics feel better about the brand (whatever that means)?  It’s good to be liked by people outside your core segment. But if doing so alienates your core without capturing new customers, you have a problem.  Your brand has to stand for something—not just temporary popularity.

But clearly the Pope has changed the minds of literally millions of people around the world about a 2000-year-old brand.  A 2000-year-old brand with clearly articulated messages, and physical locations in almost every neighborhood.  It may hurt the church or help it, but he clearly has changed the way people react to the brand of the Catholic Church in a way no one else has in centuries.

Marketing is about creating relationships with people, and getting them to see you the way you would like to be seen.  By that definition, there is no competition— Pope Francis is the Marketer of the Year.

What that means for the Catholic Church is unclear.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night Live, McKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.



Based on the thinking from Part I, the next level is to start defining generic strategies for common situations.  Every situation is unique, but it’s useful to segment along two principal dimensions—The Buyer axis (B2B v B2C) and the Competitive Positioning axis (Incumbent v Attacker).  Each one of these characteristics has reasonably consistent challenges and no-risk moves that can and should be taken.


A reminder of the context.

Segments and Issues

  1. B2B Brands:  Increase RelevanceMost B2B brands are built on rational benefits—features, specifications, and ROI.  That is a necessary but not sufficient component of building brands on social media.  With increased competition in the Newsfeed or Twitter stream from other brands, many of whom are not even B2B, the principal issue is to increase the brand’s relevance.
      • Deepen Emotional Benefits.  This means getting crisper about functional benefits but leveraging a deeper understanding of the other value you can offer the buyer.  Not just functional benefits and business outcomes, but Professional benefits, Social benefits, Emotional Benefits and Self-Image benefits.  Particularly if you are asking a buyer to forward (or endorse) your materials.  How can you make the buyer look good by passing on your messages?
      • Emphasize Risk Reduction.  Particularly effective is leveraging the heightened risk that B2B buyers feel.  A B2C purchase gone wrong is inconvenient.  A B2B purchase gone wrong can be a career-limiting move.  You don’t want to be alarmist, but you can reemphasize the safety and security of buying your brand.
      • Avoid mediocre ”Thought Leadership.” Thought Leadership is an expression that has lost its meaning.  The content that most companies are calling thought leadership contains little thought and little leadership.  If you are a smart-people company like McKinsey or Goldman Sachs, it may be a viable strategy, but for most B2B companies, it’s more effective to (a) show a deep understanding of how your business works today, (b) be aware of how it may change in the future, and (c) how that will affect the buyers.  You don’t need to offer philosophy, futurism, or TED talks (and the TED brand is showing signs of weakness anyway.)

(Read this study from CEB—it’s got very useful stuff on emotion in B2B.

2.  B2C:  Deepen the emotional connection

The nature of B2C brands is that they are more about simple human emotion than complex rationality.  (There’s a reason Pampers puts a picture of a baby on the box.)  No one is going to read a white paper about your frozen dinners.  In an increasingly competitive marketplace for brands and emotions, B2C brands need to own one word.

      • Emphasize Emotion.  As the number of messages increases, and the market gets increasingly noisy, marketers will rely more on emotional messaging.  That means that unless your brand uses emotion effectively now, it’s going to get drowned out.
      • Make your sharers look good. Further, effective B2C social media content conveys social capital on those who share it.  Give people a reason to share it.  Look at masters like George Takei, who convinces hundreds of thousands of people to share his (outsourced) content every day.  Buzzfeed and Upworthy have also developed new forms of ultra-shareable content.  Not every brand needs to become a content factory, but these are the brands you compete with for airtime. The first work is now being done on the science of sharing content, and it’s almost entirely driven by emotions—specifically Curiosity, Amazement, Interest, Astonishment, and Uncertainty.  Is that surprising?  Of course not.  But your brand needs to develop skills at developing messages that evoke those emotions.  Welcome to Show Business.  Excellent storytelling skills will be table stakes in this new era.
      • Experiment with New Forms. B2C brands also need to explore new forms—Lowe’s has done great work with Vine (its Fix in Six has a great point of view), Pinterest in driving more ecommerce than any other site, and new platforms are constantly emerging.  No brands have really cracked Snapchat yet, but several are already there.

3.  Incumbent Brands:  Maintain audience, Deepen emotion

For incumbent brands, the principal challenge is to maintain audience.  The new forms allow attacker brands to disrupt existing brand relationships.  Pre-existing marketing skills around Television, PPC, or SEO are not irrelevant, but the new forms demand a new set of skills.

    • Maintain and Grow audience.  This means being a fast follower on social media.  It’s not absolutely necessary for the incumbent to be the pioneer in social media, but it can’t fall too far behind.  (Home Depot can’t catch up on Vine—Lowe’s Fix in Six has too much of a head start—but it can differentiate on another platform, probably with content focused on contractors.  Maybe in Spanish.)  This also means linking up your social media profiles so that if you capture a buyer anywhere, it is easy to find your other content on other platforms.
    • Reinforce emotion.  Whatever emotion the incumbent owns needs to be deepened and sharpened.  In B2C it may be oriented around surprise or self-actualization.  In B2B it may be around trust.  But as the emotional landscape grows more competitive, incumbents need to dig in and protect their position with buyers.

    • Maintain segment integrityP&G’s Moms campaign around the Olympics was emotionally powerful, but will not translate into strong bonds with buyers.  I have no relationship with P&G.  I have a strong, long-standing relationship with Tide.  A master brand strategy may work in social media if that strategy is already in place (e.g., Intel).  For a portfolio company like P&G, it’s hard to generate that connection to the parent holding company.  (Look at Kering and other how luxury goods holding companies feature the portfolio brands.

4.  Attacker Brands:  Experiment aggressively, own an emotion

Attacker brands have a great opportunity to become newly relevant with new forms of media.  Look how Dollar Shave Club positioned itself via social media vs what Gillette has done.  (3 Million views in a week.)  Particularly if the incumbent is slow to embrace social media, attackers can win a lot by moving quickly.  In attacker brand always has to overcome the burden of not being trusted yet.  Social media offers the attacker brand a way to have the buyer’s friends validate the choice.

    • Focus on Shareability.  We know that people trust what their friends recommend more than advertising.  There’s no stronger source of trust than the recommendation of friends.  When Dollar Shave Club gets people to share their video, the person sharing is implicitly endorsing the product.  That is much more powerful than a banner ad.
    • Own an emotion. The focus on shareability implies owning an emotion—that’s what makes content get shared.

    • Grow the audience.  Particularly for new entrants, it may make sense to pay for promotion on Facebook and Twitter.  Social media is very much about thresholds, and until the brand achieves critical mass, it won’t have much impact on the market.

    • Try new forms.  The cost of experimentation is low, and attackers need to be perceived as more forward-thinking than the incumbent.  That doesn’t mean insurance companies need to use Snapchat, but it does mean that the attacker can’t be perceived as less relevant than the incumbent.

These 4 categories obviously combine into 4 sets of recommended actions for brands that fit in each box—Incumbents in B2C need to follow recommendations for both incumbents and B2C.

It goes without saying that every brand is unique, but this new competitive era does offer a few low-risk moves that will help brands at all levels help deepen their relationship with buyers.

Your comments are very welcome.

Photo Credit: Flickr

 Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night Live, McKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.


A Framework for Branding with Social Media (Part 1)

Your brand is a set of emotions triggered by brain chemicals.  Those chemicals are set off by the data points your customer knows about your brand.  Social Media changes branding because it makes it much cheaper to produce and deliver those data points.  However,  it’s also easier for your competition.  Cheaper message production and distribution mean it’s a much noisier space for all brands.

That means brands have to concentrate on:

  1. Defining where they want to compete
  2. Honestly assessing how the brand is perceived in that competitive space
  3. Developing a strategy to get the brand from where it is to where it should be
  4. Executing with best practices in a noisy space

Let’s walk through the process:

  1. Where to compete?  This is a canonical strategy question, but particularly in the crowded social media space, there is a need to define the competitive space tightly in order to establish a sustainable base.  Now that every brand is a media company, you have to think like a media company.  Narrow and deep beats broad and shallow.The key points to define here are which segment the brand is seeking to reach, what success looks like, and the competitive scenario.  Is this segment of the market crowded? How do buyers make decisions?  What do people know about you?  What do they know about your competitors?  A simple 2×2 matrix can be a useful planning tool here for mapping the competition.
  2. Honestly assessing positioning.  Once you have defined the competitive arena, where are you versus other choices, both competing propositions and substitutes?  Most importantly, how do you stack up on Emotional Benefits and on Functional Benefits?  The new tools allow you to create and curate many more messages than you could before, and you can craft them to emphasize the benefits of your choice.  Based on where you need to be, where are you now?  Do your buyers care about emotional benefits?  Almost certainly, even if they’re B2B buyers.  What emotions are you trying to evoke?  The Plutchik wheel can be very valuable in articulating the emotions you are trying to evoke.  Social listening and sentiment analysis tools can be very useful in gathering data for this analysis, as well as customer interviews and other traditional data-gathering tactics.What you’re looking for is an assessment of (a) what the market thinks about you and (b) how strongly they feel it.  In most cases, they don’t feel strong at all.  The emotional or functional benefits for brands are lost in the noise, and you will have an uphill climb.  The ugly truth is that most buyers don’t think of you much at all.  But to get onto a buyer’s shortlist, you will need to register on their radar screen.  Regular buyers may have a strong sense of your functional benefits, but don’t expect the market to really understand the benefits of your feature set.  The emotional benefits may be all over the map.  IBM evoked very strong and clear emotions in the 1980’s.  Those emotions are less clear now.  Blackberry is another example—they stood for one thing ten years ago, and something very different today.  Emotion is dynamic and context-based.  It needs to be regularly monitored and managed as much as it can be.In most cases, brands will need to improve performance on both axes.  Your functional benefits are not all that well understood and your emotional benefits may not be registering at all.  An example for an agriculture and chemical company might be for a particular segment (not product buyers but the public at large) “Increase understanding of functional benefits A, B, and C” and “Move emotional profile weighting away from Fear and Disgust and toward Trust and Surprise.”  A packaged goods company might aim for “Deepen understanding of our unique functional benefits, and focus emotional benefits toward Trust.”
  3. Charting a course.  Now that you have determined where you need to be and where you are now, the course needs to be charted.  There are different tools available, but there are significant differences in the degree to which they are trusted.  As the chart shows, Recommendations from friends are the most trusted medium, but those recommendations can’t be easily bought.  Should you base your entire strategy on them?  You can buy all the banner ads you want, but will anybody believe you?


(Click the chart to expand)

There are three main dimensions to be managed:

      • What sort of messages?  Are the messages principally functional or emotional?  What does the target market like?  What is the competition doing?  Is there a role model from another industry?
      • What medium to use?  What media will be the right levers to pull?  In current practice, Functional benefits are best delivered via Blogs, White Papers, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  Emotional benefits are well suited to Facebook, Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and Pinterest.  Most importantly, where does your audience look for information?  There’s no point crafting the right message strategy for a medium they don’t use.  (Pinterest usage is almost 80% female.)  Blogs can be the most useful because everyone uses Google, and Google loves fresh, relevant information.
      • How to reach these audiences?  How many people are you trying to each?  Do you need to invest in paid audience building?  Which tactics should you use?  Do you expect people to share your messages voluntarily?  Why?

4.  Rigorous execution.  The principal challenge most organizations have with social media is not developing the strategy or choosing the right channels.  It’s executing remorselessly every day.  Because most people now use social media for their own personal brands, it is easy to think of social media as intuitive.  While it is easy to be a dilettante, best practices change quickly, and demand rigorous execution. This breaks down into two categories, and most companies are weak at both of them.

      • Content.  What are the best practices for a tweet?  Where does the hashtag go?  Is video better than infographic?  Best practices in content creation are always evolving.  Well established forms like Blogs and Twitter have achieved a certain level of canonical knowledge, but nowhere near print ads or even PPC advertising.  The rules change rapidly, and you need to have a team in place who can create or curate relevant content with the best practices of the moment.  It’s a very crowded marketplace (approaching perfect competition in many categories), and execution matters.
      • Distribution.  How many people a day should I follow on Twitter?  Can I name someone in a tweet?  Should I pay for Facebook ads?  Which kind?  How many times a day can I update LinkedIn before I start irritating people?  Do I really have to update the blog every day?  Can I just tweet links?  If you do not effectively build distribution, your brand will become irrelevant.  That distribution can come from owned media (your blog), earned media (other people talking about you, guest posts on other people’s blogs), or paid media (Promoted Twitter account).  Different situations demand different media selection, but getting wide distribution in your target segment is a basic requirement of building your brand.

Based on this framework, brands can find themselves in one of four basic situations

  1. Brand Creation.  Need to put new data points in market and need to build audience.
  2. Brand Turnaround.  Audience exists but brand needs to be repositioned with that audience.  Need to align messages with desired brand characteristics.
  3. Brand Growth. The right messages are in place, but Need to connect with more people.
  4. Brand Maintenance.  Messages positioned correctly, audience is correct, but need to develop and expand both either generally or to support a new initiative

Social media lowers the bar so that everyone can compete in brand building, but advantages accrue to those who have a crisply defined sense of what they are trying to establish, and those who put adequate resources behind creating the right content and distributing it effectively.  Too many brands put up a Facebook page and spin their wheels.  But by rigorously defining and executing a strategy, you can use these tools to shape your brand for the modern age

Photo Credit:  Flickr

Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night LiveMcKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.



Why should anyone publicly like your brand?

Why do people like your brand?  As we noted earlier, a brand is a feeling.  Put more reductively, it’s a blend of dopamine, serotonin, and other brain chemicals that get released when people recognize your brand.  So on a certain level, the answer is simple:  People like your brand because they like the way it makes them feel.  If the data points they know about your brand are mainly favorable, they will feel good about it.  If the data points they have add up to negative, they will not.

(If you’re very lucky, you’ll get to the point where Diet Coke is: “I really think of Diet Coke as my boyfriend.”)

So that may be why people have affection for the brand.  But why do they publicly declare their affiliation for a brand by “liking” on Facebook or following on Twitter or sharing your content?  That’s more complicated.

Danah Boyd is a researcher (working at Microsoft these days) who did some of the first work on social media by studying teens on MySpace almost ten years ago.  She found that the content that teens posted about themselves on their profile pages was “identity production.”  Just like brands put out content to shape the market’s perception of them, we all put out content about ourselves to shape our publics’ perception of us.  And those pictures can be different for different publics.  For example, on Facebook, I share content that makes me look like a good Dad as well as being a funny guy, someone who likes certain styles of music, and someone who keeps up with the news.  On LinkedIn, my brand is more focused around expertise in Media and Marketing.  On Twitter, it’s a different take, more about current events and social media.  In some forums, I have a pseudonym.  None of these personas are inaccurate, but none are complete.  We all want to look our best and to be well thought of by the various communities we belong to.  One of the ways that people do that is by affiliating themselves with certain brands.  At the top of the food chain, there are the most powerful brands. Some call them tattoo brands— Apple, Harley-Davidson, John Deere.  People join these brands rather than buy them.  As Godin says, they become “a mirror on our identity as consumers, tribe members and citizens.”  But most brands of any power will evoke a certain set of emotions.

Your personal brand is a sponge, and it soaks up data about you—where you check in on Foursquare (church or trendy bar), whether or not you commented on a mutual friend’s update, what car you drive.  People will publicly affiliate with your brand only if it makes them look good.  They may use it in private, and even be a loyal customer, but never like you publicly.

For example, I love Fritos corn chips, and have since I was a child.  I try not to eat them much, but they are my favorite indulgence.  But for me to publicly affiliate their brand with my personal brand doesn’t make me look good.  Sure, maybe it contributes an element of childlike wonder to my personal brand, but it contributes more a sense of carbs, cheap snack foods, and lack of willpower.  (Of course liking expensive wines sends a completely different set of signals—also indulgent, but with airs of connoisseurship and worldliness.)  I may enjoy Fritos.  But I’m not going to affiliate my personal brand with theirs.


(Click the chart to enlarge)

The data tell us that people like brands for three main reasons— as the chart shows us, the top three reasons are:

  • To support the brand I like (49%)
  • To get a coupon or discount (42%)
  • To receive regular updates from brands I like (41%)

“Get coupons” is a price shopper.  They’re not much good to you in the long run.  They might sample, but as we know, they’re not loyal.  “Receive regular updates” is the reasonable answer for someone who finds utility in  information alone. That information could be delivered via an email.  Or blog posts.  But that’s not publicly identifying with the brand.  The largest number of people want to publicly affiliate (or “support”) their own personal brand with the brands they like.  Identity production for grownups.


(Click chart to enlarge)

As the chart above shows, Ferrari doesn’t sell a lot of cars in the US, but it’s doing great on Facebook.  A lot of people out there want some Ferrari mojo as part of their personal brand.  Even though they drive a Chevy.  (BTW, great work there by Nissan, who clearly box above their weight on Facebook.)

A significant part of your success in social media will come from developing a brand that makes people want to affiliate with you—what sort of brain chemicals are released when your brand comes up?  Are any released at all?  If not, you know where to start building.  You have to mean something before people will affiliate with you, and use you as part of their identity production.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night LiveMcKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.



Why Scott Bedbury is Right

Your brand is a sponge. 

Your brand is also a psychological construct.  All a brand is is a set of chemicals that go off in someone’s brain when they hear your name or see your logo.  Seth Godin put it best when he said:

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.

It’s not the color or the price or the features—it’s how you make a customer feel.

So how do you manage that?  Is it just about hugs and recycling and ads about fathers and sons?

The feelings your brand evokes are released by the sum total of what the customer knows about your brand.  In short, data points.  The ads you broadcast.  The smell of your stores.  What the customer’s best friend says about you.  The customer service.  How the user feels when she carries around your bag.  What your competition says about you.  Your last 10 posts on Twitter.

Some of this is within your control, and some of it is not.  These data points vary in potency based on trustworthiness of the source (do I trust what the neighborhood coffee shop says about Starbucks?), recency of the data point (do I care that a barista was rude to me in the Chicago airport 4 years ago?), and relevance of the point (I don’t care if Starbucks matches 401K contributions, but I do care if they are chopping down the rainforest to grow coffee.).

This concept was articulated by Scott Bedbury in his book A New Brand World, the smartest book about branding out there, and one that is made even more relevant in the social media era.  In his words:

A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off-strategy. It is defined by your best product as well as your worst product. It is defined by award-winning advertising as well as by the god-awful ads that somehow slipped through the cracks, got approved, and, not surprisingly, sank into oblivion. It is defined by the accomplishments of your best employee– the shining star in the company who can do no wrong– as well as by the mishaps of the worst hire that you ever made. It is also defined by your receptionist and the music your customers are subjected to when they are placed on hold. For every grand and finely worded public statement by the CEO, the brand is also defined by derisory consumer comments overheard in the hallway or in a chat room on the Internet. Brands are sponges for content, for images, for fleeting feelings. They become psychological concepts held in the minds of the public, where they may stay forever. As such, you can’t entirely control a brand. At best you can only guide and influence it.

The rest of the book is great, but this concept is what has stayed with me for a long time.  The more data a customer knows about a brand, the less volatile their feelings are.  And you can’t control what data points they get.  I know just about everything about my local supermarket.  My emotions about it are pretty mild, but I am sure of my feelings—I have firsthand experience of that store, and new information is probably not going to change my mind unless it’s radically out of keeping with my existing feelings.  (When a robbery was reported there, it was jarring, because I think of it as safe and dull.)

Your brand is “a sponge for content.”  That’s why what you publish matters.  One stupid tweet that goes viral can undo years of work.  Equally, one customer success story that goes viral can supercharge your brand.  Realistically, almost nothing goes viral, so that’s not what you have to worry about.  But you do have to worry about two big things—

  • Are the data points you can control consistent and high quality?  A misspelled tweet is like a dirty store lobby.  Doesn’t kill the sale, but gets someone thinking the wrong way.
  • Are the data points you can’t control on your radar screen?  Do you know what people are saying about you?  Are you correcting misconceptions?  Do you know why you’re getting bad reviews on Yelp?

Your brand is constantly throbbing and changing as new data comes in.  Some of it is good or bad, but much of it is neutral.  Can you minimize the bad data points?  Can you turn the neutral data points into good ones?  And can you get the good data points shared?

Good social media alone won’t save a bad brand.  (I don’t know what I would do if I were running Sears, but their biggest problem isn’t social media.)  And bad social media won’t destroy a good brand.  But social media is a fertile source of data points—and that’s all your brand is.

This thinking simultaneously makes our jobs easier and harder.  All we have to do is manage the data points.  Unfortunately, we have to manage floods of them.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night Live, McKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.