Do You Know Your Brand’s Digital Identity?

Branding is not a new thing.  Governments have long realized the importance of symbols and one can go as far back as the Roman Empire to see the imperial eagle representing the power and glory of Rome.  But while symbols are still important components of brands, things have changed quite a bit in the past few millennia.  While we still use distinct symbols or logos and brands still stand for specific attributes and values, the digital age has definitely changed the game.

In the new collaborative and virtual world we operate in, brand identities are not simply asserted by organizations and individuals; they are co-created and can be quickly developed or destroyed by the masses. In the digital world, brands have expanded into digital identities.  Organizations and individuals have on-line personas.   Unfortunately, many organizations and individuals have limited understanding of how they are perceived nor what is communicated about them.

In the past, political entities and businesses had much greater deal of control over their brands.  They created and nurtured a specific identity, and strived to behave and communicate in ways that were consistent with that identity.  They used paid advertising and public relations and carefully measured the result.    While organizations still use advertising and PR, in the on-line world they can no longer control everything being said or known about them.  Both fans and detractors can publish what they choose and video and other content can easily go viral.

Not being able to totally control brands does not mean abdication.   There are many tools, both free and paid, that enable one to understand what is being said on-line.  From Google Alerts to Radian 6, the level and sophistication of information that can be gleamed can be surprising.  While one cannot prevent negative statements, organizations should monitor the web and be prepared to correct false statements or communicate their own points of view.  Training employees and having them act as brand ambassadors is also a strategy that has been successfully employed by many companies.

Social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs reach millions and allow one to communicate and position one’s organization, but they are not the only components of digital identities.   There is a massive amount of data on-line and we all leave trails.  Marketers have been quick to understand the value of this data.  Targeting has become very sophisticated and it is no longer just what is being said on-line, it is also about behavior and networking connections.   Businesses have developed legitimate ways to gain access to data about what individuals or companies purchase, who they know and what they view.   For good or for bad, the openness of the digital world has enabled a great deal of information to be easily obtained.

To be successful, marketers and business leaders need to understand what is available and get the insights they need.  This includes gaining a better understanding of their clients and prospects and assessing how they and their businesses are viewed on-line.   Unfortunately, if organizations do not proactively take control of or help define their digital identities, others may step in and do it for them.   And, if competitive organizations have a clearer view of customers’ needs and actions, they will be in a better position to meet these needs.  Knowledge has always come with power and this is no more evident than in the fast paced digital world we now live in.

6 Questions to Answer Before Engaging In Social Media Marketing

With so much hype around social media, many business and marketing executives are rushing to use social media platforms for their organizations.  They are putting up Facebook pages, getting Twitter handles and brushing up their LinkedIn company profiles.  Unfortunately, many of these executives are going straight to executing tactics without putting sufficient effort into creating the right strategy for their businesses.  While these initiatives may succeed, often they miss the mark.   Before engaging in social media marketing, it is a good idea to first address the following questions:

  1. What are your objectives?  Why does your business need to invest in social media?  Do you want to improve your brand, find new customers, gain market insights or simply improve relationships with existing customers?  The choice of platform and tactics wll differs depending on the answers.
  2. Who are your target audiences and how will you attract them?  Even if you build something great, you will need a way to get the right kinds of people to engage.
  3. How do social media initiatives tie in with your other marketing programs?  Social media needs to part of an integrated strategy.  It should complement and reinforce your other communications and branding messages.  It might have a slightly different tone and target audience, but should not fight against other communications.
  4. Do you have the resources or a plan in place to not only create social media vehicles, but to care and feed them and keep them current?  You may need to hire a community manager or assign someone to focus on this.
  5. What metrics are you going to use?  You need to measure whether you are achieving what you are trying to achieve.  You may want to adjust your actions based on what the metrics are showing.   The sooner you can figure out what is working and what is not, the faster you can achieve success.
  6. Have you engaged with your employees and solicited their help?   Remember that whatever you put out there your employees, as well as, your clients will have access to.  Employees can be powerful brand advocates if properly trained and motivated.

Social media can be a powerful tool for your business, but you need to approach it thoughtfully and thoroughly. Having a social media strategy in place, before you act, is usually a very good idea!

Profiting from Effective Social Media

I was recently interviewed by Adela Ondruskova, Director Professional Training, marcus evans, in preparation for a  social media training session I am running for them in December.  The questions focused on how to capitalize on ROI driven social media marketing campaigns and the need for effective social media strategies and implementation.  Attached is the interview.

Q: Andrea, can smart social media strategy be considered a powerful source of competitive advantage? How? Are current corporations aware of the potential?

A: Yes, smart social media strategy can definitely be considered a source of competitive advantage.  By allowing companies to effectively and inexpensively reach new markets, create new brand identities, develop and test new products, provide superior customer service and better understand customer and market needs, companies that use social media can definitely have an advantage over those who don’t.  I believe many companies are aware of the potential but have let resistance to change or fear hold them back.

Q:  Why do you say that it may now be a requirement?  What has changed?

A:  The stakes have definitely changed.  When television was first introduced, companies transitioned ads from radio to the new medium.  When Internet commerce was first introduced, consumers and organizations discovered a whole new way to buy and sell.  I think social media represents a similar transition.  The old ways will remain, but a new and powerful way of doing business has emerged.  To ignore it will put companies at a disadvantage and may relegate them to failure.

Q: In your opinion, can social media improve your online reputation?

A: Social media has the power to both improve and hurt reputations.  Not being aware of what is being said about one’s company is problematic.  There are many examples of companies who were hurt because they did not know how to effectively counter negative publicity in a world where things can go viral and anyone can publish.  On the other hand, a well crafted campaign that fully utilizes the potential of on-line communities and networks can work wonders for a brand.

Q: What are some of the concerns that companies have as they implement social media solutions?

A:  Unlike traditional forms of marketing where the power resides in the hands of the marketers and their carefully crafted messages or programs, social media shifts the power to those receiving the messages. It is not a passive medium but is about participation and collaboration.  Companies need to be comfortable giving up control.  In addition, organizations need to understand that their employees can be powerful brand ambassadors and that they too are participating in social networks.  Employees need to have training and social media guidelines need to be in place so that employees have an understanding of what appropriate and inappropriate behavior is in this context.

Q: What are the main advantages of the current “digital culture”?

A:  I believe we are entering an era in business where boundaries are being broken and communications are shifting from one-way to two-way.  From a product development perspective it allows for more creativity and collaborative innovation.  For customers, a digital culture allows their voices to be heard and for them to get the kind of service and support that rarely exists anymore.  And for employees, a digital culture provides them with greater participation, access to decision makers and thought leaders and hopefully results in greater satisfaction and loyalty.  A digital culture is the antithesis of the traditional bureaucratic organization where power, information and control are invested in the hands of a few.

Q:  What do see as the “next big thing” in terms of social media? 

A:  I think the whole area of mobile computing and location based services will take social media to the next level.  We have already seen the popularity of sites such as Foursquare and Gowalla and with Facebook getting in the game, it is clear that there will be an explosion in the use of these capabilities for product promotions, contests, etc.  In fact with the exponential growth in smart phone usage, I think phones will soon become the primary way most of us access social media sites.

Q:  Do you see any downside of this explosion in social media and mobile communications?

 A:  Social media is a tool, and like all tools it can be misused.  I think it is important to have privacy limits and make sure that there are not abuses.  There will always be unscrupulous individuals and organizations that do the wrong thing.  I believe we will see governing bodies emerge so that this is monitored and punishments are levied.  The good thing about this medium is that it is open, so when things are not done properly complaints are raised quickly and loudly.  We have seen both Google and Facebook stumble and correct themselves and I am sure there will be many others who attempt do to objectionable things and get quickly chastised.

 Q:  What is your unique perspective on this?

 A:  I have a fairly unique perspective in that I have worked cross-functionally, holding leadership roles in Human Resources, Communications and Marketing.  This has enabled me to understand the complexity of introducing this type of change in organizations.  I have also spent the majority of my career in technology and have worked on cutting edge strategies that have fundamentally shifted the way business gets done and messages are communicated. While, I understand the traditional way marketing, communications and advertising operate; I also recognize the benefit of introducing new capabilities into the mix.  My perspective is holistic, with a focus on integrated marketing and end-to-end organizational strategy.  Finally, while I understand the current environment, my work on future trends has also given me the insight into where things are heading.

 Q: What are the key areas you will cover in the training course? What will be the main takeaways for the training attendees?

A Participants will learn how social media is changing business, communications and marketing and will understand what works, what doesn’t work and why.  They will learn how to improve brand perception and manage online reputations, better target marketing efforts, gain insights into customers and competitors, leverage YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social network channels and understand mobile applications and how they are changing the game.