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Top Ten Things a Brand Must Be to Go Social

November 9, 2009 12 Comments

Reading Time: 4 minutes

So often we hear that a brand wants to go social – that is, to be organically shareable, a hub for substantive conversations around mutual concerns and values, a place where customers return as a focal point in their lives. Yet in my experience that often isn’t possible because a brand hasn’t done the basics, the simple things that must occur before any social media strategy can succeed. Here are my top ten.

1. BE DEFINED: Brands don’t know who they are. There, I said it. If I had to name the number one problem I encounter among brands, and the single most effective way to overcome any number of marketing problems, it’s to take the time to interrogate who you are, what you stand for and what your goals are. How can a customer know your brand, decide if they want to be loyal or buy your product if they don’t know who you are?

2. BE SIMPLE: It takes time to penetrate pop culture and that means your message needs to be simple. The best way to do that is to frame the conversation in terms of your customers’ needs (rather than talk about yourself). So stand for something, say it simply and then keep on saying it in different ways. At least then customers have a hope of knowing what you stand for and whether they want to be involved.

3. BE HUMAN: A self-absorbed brand is as annoying as a robo-call or automated message. Social media affords intimacy so a brand needs to have the capacity to be human so that real people can relate to it. Banks are no longer financial institutions. They are places where you and I try to make our dreams possible after having had our fingers badly burnt last year. Supermarkets are not retail outlets but where we take care of our families and, ideally, the planet. Every brand needs a voice, but that voice also needs a heart.

4. BE INSPIRING: It’s not enough to be knowable or even consistent. You need to be a source of inspiration. Brands have enormous impact in our lives from the deluge of messaging that fills our days to the familiar products we find in our pantries. If brands want more than acceptance, if they want loyalty from customers who take pride in their brand, they need to inspire their customers through their products, behavior and values because that is worth talking about.

5. BE CONSISTENT: The most successful brands do this very well and hold themselves to it. The less effective brands shift their strategy with every new CMO or chase what they think is the next shiny penny that consumers want – and they simply end up looking schitzophrenic. (Usually because they haven’t done #1). We all have enough crazy in our lives and don’t need any more from a brand.

6. BE ALERT: Listening ability is the most important, overlooked and under-rated attribute of a brand. Gone are the days of brands dictating consumer behavior, pushing information on customers or telling them what to think. Today, brands must harness the same dynamic but it is flowing in the opposite direction. Firstly, that means a brand must be tirelessly vigilant to its customers’ needs. Secondly, it must be reactive, ever ready to provide a timely contribution to a real time conversation or do damage control if necessary.

7. BE INTERESTING: Boring just won’t cut it these days. There’s simply too much competition for the customer’s attention. The good news is that if you know who you are and what you stand for, you can bring that to life in infinite ways. You can even poke fun at yourself. It only makes you more human. But whatever a brand does, it can’t be a reason to go somewhere else because you just know YouTube or Twitter just posted a video with a kitten dancing on the head of a baby while rollerskating.

8. BE SURPRISING: Every now and then we all need a little change up. So just when your customers feel like they’ve got to know you and like you, give them a little surprise. Appear where you normally don’t, raise your voice a little or lend a hand to someone else. Just do something that keeps you a fresh and gives customers something to talk about. In doing so you can discover new customers and keep the ones you’ve got.

9. BE BRAVE: Everything is changing so fast its almost impossible to keep up. Especially when you have to take a huge infrastructure, network of relationships and long-established mindset with you. That’s why every company needs a Chief Bravery Officer who jumps in feet first to new territory rather than let competitors wave as they pass you by. Sometimes a brand will make the wrong choice, but there’s no more costly mistake than an unwillingness to jump.

10. BE GRACIOUS: This is a new day. Brands live or die on the good grace of their pro-active, connected customers. They can be your greatest allies or quickest destroyers. It is a privilege for a brand to enter their lives and any attitude short of that is a fast track to self-absorbtion and self destruction.

There is no end of reasons not to make these ten commitments (a few are listed below), but once a brand does, its chance of going social is exponentially increased. I would also like to add BE TRUSTWORTHY, BE TRANSPARENT and BE ACCOUNTABLE (but that would be greedy). Do you have any others to add?

Credit: cpworks.com

Credit: cpworks.com

READ MORE FROM SIMON MAINWARING!

12 responses to “Top Ten Things a Brand Must Be to Go Social”

  1. 1day1brand says:

    We need more posts like this. There have been lots of advances in the way brands are planned, managed and tracked. But the advances in brand developement? There hasn’t been a brand development 2.0. Not even a 1.0.
    I woud add that a brand should be collaborative. Top down expert-only brand development needs to cede to less perfect but more authentic collective brand development efforts. Of course, these efforts must still conform to evolving branding best practices.
    — Axle Davids

  2. admin says:

    Thx Axle and I agree. So much of a brand’s social media success depends on their initial brand development but that is being lost in the rush to adopt social media. The result is they in fact, compound the problem by further spreading confused messaging.

    And yes, collaboration is key and the way for the future. many big brands are already embracing this. There is such power in a collective mind muscle and spoils enough for all. Thx for the support and great insights. Simon

  3. Camilo Olea says:

    Wow. EXCELLENT post! My respects!
    This is really good info, I am going to implement this for my future first meetings with clients!
    I agree, first things first. The most important part of a successful socia media effort of any kind, is to stablish clearly defined goals & objectives, like the ones you mention.
    Keep the good content coming!
    Cheers from Cancun,Mexico!
    Camilo Olea
    http://twitter.com/camiloolea
     
     

  4. admin says:

    Thx Camilio. Yes, it’s easy to go straight to social media issues but I have found in practice that underwhelming results are usually due to ill-defined or articulated brands. So as un-sexy as it seems, often the best approach is to get your whole house in order. Then not only will your communications be clearer, they’ll be more effective. thanks so much for the support and hope all is well, Simon

  5. MIRO S says:

    Simon, I enjoyed your post

    i think the greatest challenge a brand has to overcome before it sets out “being” the things you outlined is identifying what is wants to accomplish “doing” in those channel(s).

    Too many are stuck in limbo trying to monetize, or listen or converse, or community ….until they figure out their end state…they can't BE anything.

    cheers
    Miro Slodki

  6. Completely agree, Miro. You need a destination before you head out. Once you have that so much else falls into place. Without it, you're just floundering as an individual or a brand. Thanks for the great input, Simon

  7. MIRO S says:

    Simon, I enjoyed your post

    i think the greatest challenge a brand has to overcome before it sets out “being” the things you outlined is identifying what is wants to accomplish “doing” in those channel(s).

    Too many are stuck in limbo trying to monetize, or listen or converse, or community ….until they figure out their end state…they can't BE anything.

    cheers
    Miro Slodki

  8. Completely agree, Miro. You need a destination before you head out. Once you have that so much else falls into place. Without it, you're just floundering as an individual or a brand. Thanks for the great input, Simon

  9. […] an overview on how a brand goes social, click here, and please fire away with your questions or comments on how to reach younger […]

  10. […] but really, how social can a brand be? Social media phenom Simon Mainwaring says “a brand needs to have the capacity to be human so that real people can relate to it.” But doesn’t that beg the question “What is a real person?” Are companies […]

  11. Very well written Simon!

    This article should be on the must read lists for brands looking to go social.

    I like this, because it is a step by step guide to brands removing their heads out of their asses. Thumbs up to you sir.

  12. Thanks, Tommy. Glad you liked it. Let's help brands get on board. Simon

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Simon Mainwaring

Reading Time: 1 minutesSimon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.

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