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Brand Development & Social Media: the Marketing Imperative

We said in our last blog that few things in business are as misunderstood as branding, but one of those is probably social media. Even today, with countless social media triumphs in terms of development of corporate preference to point to, many company executives still cut the social media budget first and technical staff scoff at its significance. So let’s talk about it.

We said in the branding blog that a brand is owned by the customer and is made up of the thoughts, feelings and expectations each customer has with regard to a given company or entity. Positive thoughts, feelings and expectations lead to brand preference – and that glorious day when a customer says, “I always buy (insert your company here).”

How does that day arrive? How do positive thoughts, feelings and expectations get developed? Through interaction between the brand developer (you) and the brand owner (the customer). These interactions are built upon customer experience with your product – BUT, what happens before they buy? That’s where communication comes in. Every touch you have with a prospect either directly or indirectly develops expectations. This might be reviews, training, word of mouth, advertising, corporate generosity, thought leadership, and lots more.

But the things a prospective customer will remember best are those that touch them personally. This might be sharing a fundamental commitment, a funny story you both enjoy, a mutual love of baseball and most of all, a question answered or some direct help. This is, of course, where social media comes in. There is no medium more conducive to interaction than social media – even face-to-face because across the desk (if you can even get there) customers may not tell the truth. Social media lets people reach you, complain, yell, praise, question, confront and generally interact in unforgettable ways. Even clicking LIKE is more personal than hitting mute on a passing TV commercial.

The fact is, people remember what they interact with. They even tend to recall what other people interact with. For some people who are not yet customers or in remote places in the world, social media may be the only way they can interact with you. Social media is personal. Does that mean dog and cat pictures? No, it means chances for personal interaction and interaction is how thoughts, feelings and expectations (i.e., brands), are built.

(Okay, and maybe a couple dog pictures.)

Branding – the Most Misunderstood Idea in Marketing

One of the most misunderstood marketing concepts on earth is branding. Ask 10 people what a brand is and you’ll get 10 different answers – it’s a name, a company or entity, it’s a logo, a consistent look and feel, it’s a culture, it’s differentiators, and on and on. We know that customers buy certain brands and don’t buy others and we want the former and not the latter, and yet without knowing what a brand is, there’s no way to make that happen.

The fact is that a brand is none of the above – and all of them.

Here’s what a brand really is:

If I go out to a group of your customers and/or potential customers and I say your name or show them your product, the thoughts, feelings and expectations that arise in the minds and hearts of those customers ARE your brand. Thoughts, feelings, and expectations.

So that’s why so many companies misunderstand branding. We don’t own our brands. Our customers do. And our brand is what those customers say it is – even if we don’t like what they think, feel and expect.

That’s also why its so hard to change a brand. It explains why popular brands hang on long after their products go downhill, and why better mousetraps don’t always prevail against well established brands – at least not right away. It’s hard to change people’s minds, hearts, and expectations. Really hard, as any sales person knows who’s heard a prospect say, “Sorry. We always buy (insert competitor’s name).”

But how do brands get developed? By interaction. By every touch between a company/entity and its customers. These interactions may be direct from company to customer like through the product experience or the advertising campaign, or indirectly by word of mouth. And – this is important – brands are formed not just through the interactions we would prefer the customers notice, but by everything! That’s why a company that spent tons of money advertising “free shipping – game changer” can lose customers when they charge triple for returns. They violated the expensively cultivated customer expectation that this was a customer-oriented company.

So “branding” can’t be just something that occurs in a tagline or this season’s ad campaign. It has to pervade every interaction between entity and customer.

Write down 10 things that you want every customer to think, feel, and expect when they see your name or consider your product. Make sure every employee worldwide understands those things and every communication represents at least a few of them.

With complete consistency, a positive brand is the most powerful tool in marketing because it leads to brand preference and “we always buy (insert your company name)”.

Blogging and Getting Your Teeth Drilled

The first time a person writes a blog it’s all excitement and self-expression. By the fifth blog, they’d rather go to the dentist. Blogs are vicious task masters. Because they’re way bigger than a tweet or a Facebook post, we figure each one has to be brilliant, insightful and original. Unlike a one-time magazine article, the blog sits there waiting for you to add to it! Combine these two things and you have a serious case of chronic stress.

Since blogs are so challenging, why do it? Here are a few reasons:

  1. Blogs can make you a subject matter expert – unlike magazine articles where you are required to follow intense editorial rules and requirements, blogs let you be expert, intelligent, and helpful in small bites and in your own voice. Have an opinion? You can voice it. Want to point to your own product as the solution to a problem? You’re allowed.
  2. Blogs are beloved by search engines – they help keep you in front of your customer.
  3. Blogs are social media – despite their potential to enhance expertise, they can be personal and informal in tone. They encourage conversation.
  4. Blogs allow dialog – readers can comment, ask questions and interact. This will happen most if you prompt those questions. Interaction builds brands.
  5. Blogs give a personality to your website – a visitor may read all the product descriptions and “Who we are” sections in the world, but if they want to know what you believe and know, they’ll sample your blog.

So there are lots of pros to blogging. That doesn’t erase the cons. Who has time to do it? That’s where a content expert (like Strategies) comes in! Establish a partnership with a content provider that can dive deep into your company’s markets, products, services, technology and culture, then turn the content provider loose on producing a steady flow of blogs. Yes, you have to check them for accuracy, but with the right partner, that will become a small job. You get the benefits of blogging – and none of the pain of the dentist drill.

Never Sell Any Customer Anything. And Succeed!

Have you ever said, “That salesperson really saw me coming. He wasn’t letting me out of there until I bought.” All of us feel that we’ve been sold something in our lives that we didn’t need or think we wanted. We think we’ve been persuaded to buy. That idea, in turn, influences our thoughts about what sales is and how it works.

In fact, none of us – no customer – ever buys anything that they’re not ready to buy. The reason is simple. If we’re not ready to buy something on some level, we don’t notice it. Among the millions of messages bombarding us at every second, a message for which we have no use doesn’t get through. So while we may later regret buying something, we were in fact ready to buy it.

This vital point is essential in understanding the role of marketing. It is not the job of marketing to sell. It’s the job of marketing to create an environment in which sales can occur by making sure that your product or company comes to mind at the moment that the buyer is ready to buy. This can be accomplished by making your message so compelling that it lingers in the back of the mind until the moment of need arises. Or, marketing can simply make your message so ubiquitous that the buyer sees it when they’re ready to make a decision.

You can argue that you remember the AFLAC duck even though you’d never buy the product. No, you like humor and funny animals. That’s what you bought. But if you ever need that kind of insurance or have to recommend to a friend, guess who will come to mind?

If we can get out of our minds that it’s our job to “make” people buy stuff, then we can let marketing do the job for which it was conceived.