Tag Archives: sponge

Hello, New York

In the second of our Alec Baldwin series, a tweet of mine about Mr. Baldwin’s noisy exit from public life was picked up yesterday by the New York Times.

It’s nice to be picked up by the elite’s hometown paper, and it was nice to have old friends reach out to me to tell me about it.  But it doesn’t necessarily convey professional benefits.  Do I need to add “plugged into pop culture” to my brand?  Not really– I have that one pretty well covered.  It would have been a lot better for me if the Times had passed along something I said that was insightful about the changing strategy of brands in the social media era.  (Note to self:  Tweet more about things that are professionally valuable.)

The Baldwin tweet is a data point that will be seen by many people, but it doesn’t do a lot for my brand.  On the other hand, if I can start getting quoted in the press regularly, it will convey real authority as those data points accrete.  (NPR, IBA, New York Times…. hey, I might actually know what I’m talking about.)

Wide exposure to a slightly off-target data point isn’t bad.  I reemphasize brand values which are secondary but relevant (funny, plugged in) and I potentially pick up new followers.  (Yesterday I did pick up quite a few Twitter followers, but it’s hard to tell what made them follow me.)  It may help for SEO, but it’s too early to tell.

(Incidentally, yesterday I was teaching an Entrepreneurship class at Creighton University when I got the news about the Times.  The slides are here.)

Having the right creative matters, but having the right distribution matters too.  That tweet might have been trivial, but it was well-distributed, and something may come of that.  But where the rubber meets the road, someone subscribing to this blog is a lot more valuable to me than someone seeing one witty tweet on paper.  Attention is nice, but it doesn’t always create value.

Your brand is a sponge and mine is too.  And now I get a little of Alec Baldwin’s and The New York Times‘ brand mojo rubbing off on me for a short time.  That tweet is a nice thing for my brand, but this game is about building up lots of data points, not just one, and specifically data points that show that I’m valuable, not just that I’m amusing.

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 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.