The re-election of President Obama was historic on many levels including the release of his record-setting acceptance tweet, ‘Four more years,’ accompanied by a photo of him hugging, First Lady Michelle Obama. While much of the press has focused their attention on the sheer volume of Twitter retweets and Facebook Likes, this image contains a powerful lesson in powerful social branding.
The President and his team had many options of what image to share at that historic moment. President Obama waving from the podium shrouded in confetti, he and Vice President Biden standing arm in arm or the President and Vice-President in a formal portrait with their wives, readily come to mind. Instead, they struck at the heart of powerful storytelling by sharing an image that was informal, intimate and vulnerable, and therefore accessible, to everyone who saw it.
For their supporters this image gave expression to the anxiety, relief and joy that at least 53% of the nation shared, and in so doing, they inspired them to share it with others. In doing so the President and his team demonstrated a clear understanding of the need to celebrate that moment in an innately sharable way. Most importantly they demonstrated a keen understanding of the most critical lesson in social branding that all marketers must learn – a brand must act as the chief celebrant rather than celebrity of its communities.
This lesson applies to all sectors. The lasting, global appeal of Lady Gaga has little to do with a dress made of meat or blood as make-up. Since the early days of her career she has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to authentic self-expression despite public and private criticism. In concert she has tirelessly thanked her fans for the permission to be herself and encourages them to do the same. She has recently launched her own powerful self-titled social network called Little Monsters in which her fans showcase their own self-expression. And perhaps most tellingly, she has launched her own Anti-Bullying Foundation to help protect other young people that just want their own freedom of self-expression.
Seen this way every theatrical act serves as an ever-bolder permission slip for her fans to live their lives authentically and that is the emotional connective tissue that drives and builds her fan base. Yet too many marketers see little more than sensationalism at the heart of her brand rather than a creative heart demanding self-expression.
Like Lady Gaga, Red Bull leapt onto our television, computer and smartphone screens around the globe through what at first glance appears to be a dramatic stunt of fearless Felix leaping from 24 miles above earth into the record books. Yet like President Obama and Lady Gaga, Red Bull deeply understood that it is the human story that must be told if you hope for consumers to share your marketing. So they consistently built up anticipation through videos and press coverage for more than a year included the aborted launch attempts. They detailed the risks that Felix faced from the vulnerability of the balloon and the glass on his visor to the prospect of his blood boiling inside his suits on re-entry to the possibility of a death spin from which he could not recover.
As a result a global audience took part in a shared rand experience over 8 million people watching the livestream while over 30 million have since watched the You Tube video. Everything detail down to the camera angels of the coverage ensured each viewer could literally step off that skateboard-sized platform and plummet through the airless space at over 700 mph. This was a human story with the highest life and death stakes and the brand’s was clear. Crudely put each viewer went through that same progression from ‘Felix is extreme’ to ‘What Felix did was extreme’ to ‘Red Bull is extreme’ to (hopefully) ‘When I drink a Red Bull, I am extreme.’
In all three cases, the President, Lady Gaga to Red Bull have demonstrated that in order for citizens or consumers to share your message on a massive scale through their own social media channels, you must focus on the ‘story’ as much as the telling.’ Too many brands today are in such a hurry to capitalize on social media and acquire a sizable social media footprint that they rush straight past the story to the tools of telling be it Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram or Viddy.
What today’s most successful social brands realize is that while marketing tools and tactics may change, the currency that all marketers trade is emotion and social media are just new channels through which to connect hearts and. To achieve this, especially over the long term, brands must start their social media outreach by defining their brand’s story, purpose and core values. Without this, companies either end up using social media to broadcast their schizophrenia as they try to be all things to all people on all channels. Or they pile one isolated marketing tactic on top of one another and wonder why they never grow a self-sustaining customer community that promotes their business with them. When social media is used to amplify strategic storytelling framed in emotional terms the global marketplace is quite literally yours for the taking. Without a defined and fundamentally human story around which consumers can connect, no amount of social media tactics will amount to a contagious social brand.
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.