If I could commercialise my drifting-off-to-sleep-magic I’d be rich

I had an epiphany last night as I was falling asleep. Actually it was a series of epiphanies.

Bear with me.

I started thinking about all the different online and social media things I have done over the years for a wide range of people/product/services, and tried to tie them all together and articulate what I have learned and how I apply what I have learned to each new challenge, in one sentence.

This wasn’t easy as I had to get a handle on my own logic. Why I intuitively do what I do when presented with a new website/brand/corporate presence. For example, why do I naturally suggest some clients/contacts use facebook, but others use twitter, and why some a combination of both? Why should some use delicious and others blog?

I went through the major cases I could think of in my head and matched them up with their underlying features and came out with the obvious answer you’ve probably all been thinking: to attract and engage an audience.

But that is the easy answer. Actually connecting the threads between the types of activities and audiences and asking why do some work and why do some flop jumped me to my major epiphany:

A successful brand ensures that its fans, staff and stakeholders are proud of it, and stay that way.

When people are proud of you, they naturally endorse you because they want other people to know that they share values with you. (The key word in that previous sentence was “naturally”. Online, the natural and the organic have the most power.)

This made sense in my head. And it wasn’t really anything new, just the methods of achieving it and the degree of sincerity needed to make it successful, have became more complex. Back in the mythical days before the internet this sense of “proud” was probably achieved through advertisements and sponsorship that positioned brands in people’s lives, and allowed the brand to affiliate with people because they saw themselves, and other people they positively identified with, reflected in the brand. It was all quite superficial. Nowadays consumers expect to be able to see right into companies, so they can judge for themselves whether or not the company genuinely represents their values, and whether they want to endorse it. A development which has left many emperors without any clothes.

This sounds simple, but think about it for a moment, and you’ll probably only be able to name on one hand the companies who have got this right.

How many brands do you use that you actually engage with, by actively following them on twitter, liking and commenting on their page on facebook or reading the CEO’s blog? I would hazard a guess that if you are still following them, liking them or reading them, that their posts/tweets/blogs are genuine, informative, useful and/or insightful.

Now think about all of the businesses attempting online marketing at the moment. In this day and age most businesses have clicked on to the fact that they need to be online, but they think that just the very act of being online is enough.

Some go a bit further and do hire people to look after their online presence, but I would guess that most of these people don’t have the faintest idea of what to do, and/or are learning on the job. (I have no beef with these people, I learned on the job too, in a combination of my own and other’s businesses. In most cases it is one step better than no dedicated person and two steps better than no online presence).

But the difference between learn-as-you-go and actually adding value to the brand and company and eventually the customer, comes when online marketing is viewed by the company as integral to the whole company, not just something you give money to, to tick a box or comply with expectations.

And from this “company wide” attitude will come the personality of the brand. I could name you countless companies I know of who have slick online presences, but no personalities. If “A successful brand ensures that its fans, staff and stakeholders are proud of it, and stay that way”, then these interested parties need a personality they can relate to.

So if you are going to pay someone to tick your “Social Media Box” at least make sure they have a good grasp on your brand’s personality, or are working towards it. If not, tell them to go sell something instead.

Start by identifying some of the things (brand attributes) you want your customers to feel when they think about you. For example, MOO is funky, clean, friendly and inspirational. Audi is luxurious, stylish and innovative. Choose your words, ensure they are positive, and incorporate them into EVERYTHING you do.*

*NOTE 1: EVERYTHING means on and offline activities i.e blogging, tweeting AND customer service etc. NOTE 2: “Corporate” is no longer a brand attribute. It will be translated by consumers into negative associations like “boring”, “stand-offish” and “sterile”. Get a real personality and don’t hide behind stuffy words.

The icing on the cake comes when the whole company; from the leadership team to the little guys, buy into and understand a brand and company’s personality. That’s when you get leaders blogging (not their PR people pretending to be them) and general staff promoting their company, not because they are in the marketing team, but because they are proud of where they work.

And there it is. After thinking this through I could finally go to sleep knowing with some clarity the intent informing my actions. This might seem obvious to a lot of people, but I find some sort of clarity from taking a long hard look back, asking “why” questions, making linkages, and using the knowledge that I gain through this exercise in future applications.

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