By Lulu Raghavan
Branding has not fundamentally changed in the age of social networks. Social media is just another channel, although a critical one now, that has to be mastered and perfected as a medium if brands are to thrive in this uber connected world that we live in.
A brand still needs to stand for a singular compelling idea that is both meaningful to its target audience and different from its competitors. A brand still needs to have consistency in presentation and experience across different touch points of the brand. And it still takes years to build a brand’s reputation but just one mistake to tarnish it. These basic tenets of what a brand stands for and how they work have not changed.
But with the advent and the pervasive nature of social media, things have gotten both easier but also more difficult for marketers.
It’s easier than ever to make it abundantly clear to your intended audience what you stand for using every avenue that social media offers. This is true for brands that have been around for a while, brands newly born in the social age and brands entirely social in nature.
The Tata brand has stood for trust for over a century. AAP (Aap Aadmi Party) cut through the cutter of the political cacophony by standing for the people’s choice. An entirely digital brand like Flipkart is dedicating itself to creating the greatest shopping experience without leaving the home for the Indian consumer. There is more free media available to Tata, AAP and Flipkart than they can possible fill with meaningful content. Just imagine how much space there is on their websites, Facebook pages, YouTube channels, Pinterest pages, Twitter handles and every other social media channel absolutely free of cost. Brand managers in the Mad Men era would have given an arm and a leg for this kind of free media exposure.
It’s easier than ever to build a community of brand advocates. Using the social media channels mentioned above, brands can easily scale up their fan base by continuing to provide relevant and engaging content on a regular basis. Their loyalists too spread the word about their positive experiences with the brand thereby increasing its appeal. Domino’s Pizza India has over 4.8 million fans on Facebook alone. The brand is very active on both Facebook and Twitter allowing it to lead the conversation in its space.
It’s easier than ever to cost-effectively test new product ideas or new campaigns in the digital medium. Cafe Coffee Day regularly uses its Facebook community to co-create new products. They organize testing of new products by apprising customers online and then take their feedback seriously. CCD’s insanely popular crunchy frappe was the result of innovation driven by their R&D team in conjunction with online customer feedback.
It’s easier than ever to listen to what your customers are saying about your brand. And they are saying a lot across all these different social media channels. Many brands are capitalizing on social media insights to improve campaigns, develop better products and respond to customer service issues. Pepsi leveraged the interplay between cricket and football fans on social media in its campaigns featuring Dhoni playing soccer. HDFC is always on alert for social media complaints about long queues at branches and the branch managers are alerted to take action.
And it is, theoretically at least, easier than ever to sell. Just e-commerce enable your website and that could add a few percentage points of growth. Fashion and luxury brands in particular are rushing to add e-commerce platforms to cater to non-metro cities where they might not have physical presence but willing consumers. A study by KPMG estimates that non-metro cities generate around 40-45 percent of business for e-commerce portals.
Now that we have seen all the positive ways in which digital can help brands, let’s look at some reasons why it is more difficult than ever for branding.
The biggest headline in the bad news category is that there’s simply no place to hide in the age of social networks. Inferior brand experiences will be exposed. Flipkart discovered this the painful way after moving to a new marketplace model when a very angry customer used social media to vent about his horrible experience. Following the groundswell of support this customer amassed online, Flipkart was forced to finally respond. It illustrates just how much power customer wield now.
The sheer volume and complexity of brand management has increased. A brand manager’s job was hard enough in preparing the brand’s messages across media, now the task’s difficulty has exponentially increased. It’s hard for a brand manager to succeed these days without a fair amount of digital sophistication and mastery of mediums other than print. For example, how easily can a brand manager run a Facebook campaign that delivers customized content for each of the brand’s million customers? It can be done but it needs the requisite know how and experience. Or then there’s the social media agency to be called upon.
Brands are constantly being judged—How often they respond, how they respond, how they react to other events. Brand marketers have to be totally on top of what they say and what is being said about them. They have to constantly monitor reams of data on what is being said about them across social channels and respond within hours to prevent negative comments from growing into a problem. Brands can’t afford to have an ego about whether they were right in a particular instance or not. The bigger a brand’s footprint and customer base, the bigger the headache. When it doubt, brands should err on the side of absolute humility.
And finally, brand consistency, the holy grail of the most successful brands, is not so easy to achieve across all channels, offline and online unless a brand has a dictatorial brand management team armed with a set of crystal clear and easy to execute brand guidelines. Even the best brands have room for improvement in this regard.
So what does this all mean for the brand marketer?
Be human, sound human. While this is the digital medium we are talking about, it is extremely important for brands to come across as human. It is after all a human to human interaction on social media not a robot to human one. Don’t forget your brand’s personality when managing its presence on social media. It is important to stay true to what your brand stands for and also strike the delicate balance between corporate speak and informality.
Integration is key. Social media should not be treated as a separate medium that needs a strategy. Your brand strategy should be executed in this medium in a way that is appropriate to how it works. From the customer’s point of view, it should be a seamless experience across online and offline channels. You need to work particularly hard to ensure that the creative execution of your brand on social channels is as compelling as offline.
Mind the format. Don’t treat social media like print or radio. Get social. Realize that it’s about conversations and dialogues not one-way communication. Brevity is important. Listen and learn. Tap into your brand’s community to grow.
Always on, always aware, you can’t go to sleep. Anything can happen anytime that can either catapult your brand to instant fame or bring your brand down in seconds. Stay alert, think on your feet and respond quickly.
There’s no better way to truly understand this medium than to actively manage your own personal brand in social media. Get started and all the best!