Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why Your Brand Strategy is Critical to Social Media Success

As we kick off 2012, no one will argue that social media is now mainstream...for consumers and brands. A few years ago I was advising clients on social media strategy and how companies should organize for social media. Depending on the client's corporate structure and capabilities, it spanned having a dedicated social media manager or a social media team to a cross-functional "tiger" team where primarily marketing and PR collectively represented the brand. Back then, it was about training a small team within the company to engage with customers. Fast forward a few years and social media responsibility and engagement now rests with almost every brand ambassadors.

Now more than ever, a company's brand strategy must be clear and understandable and worn on every employee's sleeve as they engage with consumers in social media, sometimes from their private social network accounts. One inappropriate tweet and the entire company is held liable for his/her post. The super information highway was littered with social media road kill this year from brands such as Kenneth Cole and Chrysler.

I've always advocated that defining a clear brand identity as part of a company's brand strategy is critical. The main benefits enjoyed by a strong brand are:
  • Higher brand awareness that increases the likelihood the brand is in the consideration set
  • Competitive advantage by simplifying customers' decision making by reducing their search efforts
  • Price premium due to perceived higher quality
  • Management in absentia that serves as an organizational touchstone that provides internal clarity and focus 
For social media, the last point is the most important: management in absentia. What does the rank and file worker do when the manager is not around and a customer has an issue? This is the customer moment of truth. Does the employee do the right thing? A brand is supposed to serve as a compass for the employee for moments like these. Disney and Nordstrom knows this better than anyone in the offline world.

And Zappos is great example in the online world, where employees are frequently providing customer service via Twitter. Employees are trained and empowered to do the right thing on the company's behalf. It's no coincidence that these companies also have strong brand identities and cultures. It's because employees have fully internalized the brand values. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Vic, Zappos' former Life Coach, a while back. He met with every employee, handed them a huge culture book, and had them go through extensive training and orientation, which included a stint in the call centers. During this training, every employee was asked to start a Twitter account (recall this was back in 2009!) and practice posting in order to ingrain in them that they were all spokespeople for the brand. In the end, (I was told) Zappos is not a company that sells shoes, but a customer service company.

In a nutshell, I call this "digital brand translation," taking the brand strategy and making sure its execution in online channels align with the strategy. A well-executed and fully internalized brand strategy by employees will be the key to social media success.

Is your company's brand strategy ready to take on social media in 2012?


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