The Importance of Brands in the Social Media Sphere

Facts and figures are boring. Yet almost every B2B brand relies on facts and figures to tell the story of their products or services. Countless whitepapers, videos and presentations wheel out the features and functions or a particular platform, technology or product line, yet everything that we know, as marketers, as data analysts, tells us that there is a better way. A more efficient way. In fact, neuroscience has provided vital clues that help us understand not the power of logic to drive purchase, but the importance of emotion to tip our decision-making.

So at the point of decision, emotions are very important for choosing. In fact even with what we believe are logical decisions, the very point of choice is arguably always based on emotion.

But it is one thing to know something and quite another to do something about it. Just imagine being the marketing director pitching in a new campaign to your CMO where there is little reference to product features and functions. Imagine the questions. The feedback. The personal-professional risk.

This week I recorded a podcast with the NewsModo team. We talked about branding, social media and content marketing. But mostly we talked about how storytelling allows brands to tap into the minds and emotions of their customers. One of the examples I had in mind was this video from the recent election campaign. The video captured my imagination because it’s a great example of how facts and figures can be incorporated into a campaign that drives not just action but activation. In fact, if brands (and political parties) can learn anything from the election results, it is this … listen to your audiences, understand what drives their collective mindset and help or encourage them to act on that mindset.

When you have a moment, check out the NewsModo podcast. There have been some great guests – and it may just inspire your next, best idea.

The Brand Behind Your Buttons

Sometimes the most important aspects of brand experience happen below the level of our consciousness. Think of the sound that is made when you close the door of your car. Manufacturers spend millions researching, designing and engineering that experience. Same with the exhaust note of a Harley Davidson. All of this careful thinking and planning has been crafted to heighten and differentiate your experience of a PARTICULAR brand.

This approach should also be applied to the digital domain.

Over the last dozen years or so, I have built a number of online platforms for clients or employers. Each time, I have focused on designing not just a “user interface” but an on-brand experience. And this process begins, surprisingly, with buttons.


Marc Hemeon, designer at YouTube, eloquently connects the use of web buttons with brand experience. He proposes “the button test” – and sets a surprisingly easy challenge. Can you pick the brands that use the style and colour of the buttons shown in the image? I bet you can. But more than that … can you pick the call to action, the behaviour and your sense of intention that is connected to that button? That’s the important and interesting part!

When I am thinking through and planning a digital platform, I focus on user behaviour and intention. I plan for interaction and process but I also take a leaf out of Amazon’s books. I plan for trademarking. Imagine coming up with a single button that brands an experience, explains a process and corresponds with an inherent behaviour. It’s the digital equivalent of a “Kleenex” – where the act of using a tissue has become synonymous with the company that produces the product. Amazon’s 1-click purchase button is the prime example.

As Marc’s button test shows, the smallest element on your website delivers brand impact. Maybe we should pay more attention to the digital brand experience rather than just making the logo bigger.

Logos and the Psychology of Colour

In the process of building new brands, there are three steps that I love:

  1. Naming: The naming of your new brand can be fraught – but should be fun. Coming up with a name that is descriptive enough for your customers but imaginative enough to draw them in can take far longer than you can imagine. Then once you have a name, securing and registering it can take time and more than a little money. There are some agencies dedicated to naming, and if you have a big budget it would be fabulous to work with them … but if you’re running a startup, chances are you’ll be doing the naming over a few beers with your mates. Be sure to think through the various combinations of the name and how it will be used. After all, you don’t want to follow the example of promo pen company Pen Island.
  2. Planning: No surprise here – but I get quite a kick out of the planning process. From building out the communications architecture through to building out the business case, planning is an important step for any startup. You’ll be amazed what you can learn in a couple of days – and the research and analysis (not to mention the discipline) will hold you in good stead as you start to seek funding and build your core team.
  3. Visual design: Most people think that branding is about logos. A logo is just part of the branding process … but it does need to be given time and attention. And budget always helps. Even if you have budget, it still helps greatly to provide a solid brief to your designer – which is where your planning will help. Make sure you share your research and thinking – explain the various use cases and audiences that your new business will impact. Provide a list of “attributes” that describe your brand. Be clear about the vision you have for the future of your brand. All this information should soak into the appearance of your logo and the visual design of your band.

Now that you have a name, some understanding of the potential of your business and some ideas for your logo, take that list of attributes and find them in the list in this infographic from MuseDesign. Pay special attention to other logos that you see and that you admire. Think about how they are using colour to engage you emotionally. What can you learn from great logos? Which designs make your heart jump?

After all, if you want your brand to be memorable, you’ll need all the branding help you can get.

@oldspice, Old Dogs and New Tricks

I can remember the smell of Old Spice from my youth. It reminds me of old men. Men much older than I am now. Or so it seemed. In reality, they were the young men of my parents’ lives. They were the dusky, active men of 70s – surfers, sailors, layabouts. They went water skiing in the summer and to the snow for winter. They drove real 4WD vehicles (for a reason), smoked way too much and drank VB. Or was it Tooheys New?

Whether this is accurate or not, it’s the brand image that is hard baked into my mind.

So it was going to take some effort to recast that brand association.

Now, I know that I am probably not in the target market for old spice body wash, nor even in the right geography, but it seems that the @OldSpice man campaign has been a great success. Take a look at the case study below for a neat summary. And if you want more detail, check out Jordan Stone’s post on the We Are Social blog.

But beyond the statistics, what can we learn from an old, sleeping dog like Old Spice? What can we see from the way that brand perception was able to shift through a coordinated, integrated trans-media storytelling point of view? What roles did broadcast, celebrity and social media play in amplifying and extending the brand interactions – and why were they potent? I’m going to think on this in relation to the P-L-A-Y framework for storytelling and get back to you.

Rethinking Branding through Radical Innovation

A.A.AYou know what it’s like – the brief hits your desk and you know it’s going to hurt you. The client wants impact. Results. Creativity to burn. It needs to be original, classy and out of left field – but you also need to bring this baby in on budget. And quickly. This is a competitive pitch and there are three other agencies lining up against you.

If I was you, I’d read the brief and jot down my first ideas on a post-it note, then file it away in my notepad. Then I’d talk to the team.

Rethinking innovation

But Umair Haque, economist and Director of the Havas Media Labs, suggests that we need to rethink everything we do. A proponent of “radical innovation”, Haque’s approach is to question the foundations of our actions – in short – to question how we innovate (and therefore what it means for us, our clients and our businesses).

Take for example, Haque’s well-known Smart Growth Manifesto where he turns notions of innovation on their heads:

  1. Outcomes, not income
  2. Connections, not transactions
  3. People, not product
  4. Creativity, not productivity

In some ways this seems obvious, but operationalising such innovation requires broader and deeper business thinking. If you focus not on income but on other measurements (such as outcomes) – then this means inventing new metrics as part of the process. How do we measure sustainability for example? What about happiness or wellbeing? The same with focusing on creativity over productivity – or the other two pillars.

This is not to say that such efforts should not be taken. Quite the opposite. You see, embracing such approaches will FORCE you to think and work through the consequences. In the short term, this will lead you to find equivalences – you will create and manage outcomes but find linkages to income. You will focus on people and their ideas, inspiration and energies, yet match it to their productivity and so on. But this journey will not be undertaken UNLESS you take the first step.

Rethinking branding

But how do we apply this thinking to the problems and challenges of branding? This recent post from Umair Haque on Twitter’s Ten Rules for Radical Innovation provides some pointers.

  1. Ideals beat strategies: What is the core problem that your brand is trying address. How is it making the world better in its small niche? Concentrate on the idea and let the strategy come.
  2. Open beats closed: Find the points of interdependence – between brands and their consumers, employees and their customers, executives and their teams. Share and tell the stories that emerge.
  3. Connection beats transaction: The underlying currency of this new way of thinking is TRUST. Build transactions into your branding by facilitating a sense of trust. Do this as a precursor to transactions. Do it without expectation.
  4. Simplicity beats complexity: Your customers want to do business with you. Don’t make it difficult for them. Design your offerings around the experience that your customers can share with others. Make sure that your communications are clear.
  5. Neighbourhoods beat networks: Most brands haven’t figured out that there are real people behind the avatars that flash across a Twitterstream. The network is nice but remembering that we are tribal – and above all – local – means that you have to think, act and behave as if everyone knows where you live. Really. Think of the consequences and revisit your brief.

There are another five rules that Haque shares in his article – but I will leave these to your imagination.

Returning to the brief

In many ways we operate in an echo chamber. We all read the same blogs, websites, forums and magazines. We watch the same TEDtalks and download the same iPhone apps. How do we then, out-innovate when it comes to our clients?

Chances are that your three competitors will be entering their own creative brainstorming space in the same mindset as your own team. Your best chance at out-thinking your competition is to question the foundations of your own work. Rethink thinking. Rethink creativity. Rethink strategy.

Oh, and just as you go to start work on your response to the brief, take out that original post-it note and read what you wrote. That’s your gut instinct. Sometimes you’ve got to just go with that too.

Seeing the Trees in the Social Media Forest

DappledWith each passing day there are more and more case studies, examples and justifications for brands to use social media. There are best practices emerging (or easily found with a Google search), thousands of “how to” blog posts explaining every aspect of social media (or perhaps the same aspect repeated 1000 times) and agencies devoted to social media as their core competency.

But it seems to me that we are beginning to swim (or is it drown?) in data. Because our social media interactions are digital, we can measure plenty of things – the time you spend on our sites, the things you click on, where you have come from, where you are going to, how much you spend, what you liked, rated and searched for and so on. And if you happen to have created a social network profile then we know even more about you – age, work history, relationships, preferences for products, brands, music, movies and so on.

But I have to ask – in amongst all this data, are we missing the trees for the forest?

You see, as marketers and as business people, we have been conditioned to think about after-the-fact aggregated data. We are used to thinking about what people DID based on certain conditions. This then allows us to cut-and-dice, segment and fine tune our customer base. It allows us to build out personas that make sense within the context of OUR BUSINESSES.

This works fine in a model where the direction of business communication is one way. It’s perfect in a world of broadcast – for in a broadcast world we are only interested in the forests (there being far too many trees to deal with). However, in a world where communication is polyphonic – where the authority of the message depends less on how shrill you are or how much air time you can buy – and relies instead on the trusted flow of recommendations from individual to individual, then a strategy which allows you to distinguish a hardwood from plantation pine is essential.

What this requires is for us to stop thinking about ROI.

It means turning our attention away from the R – the returns that come to us or our businesses – focusing instead on the I – what it is we are investing in.

By understanding who our consumers are, what our brand advocates look like, what they do (apart from loving our brands – yeah right!), where they play and so on, we can identify opportunities to engage with them. We need to invest in the RIGHT relationships – those that lead towards returns (monetary and non-monetary). We need to remember that branding is a marathon – that it all takes time – but we also need to work smarter. We need to take our excellent marketing processes and understanding and apply it in a way that enhances the way that we view our audiences. We need to use our knowledge of the forests to make sense of the trees, and only then will we begin to realise not only that social media makes sense for our businesses, but that “social” is the business.

Blogging for Small Business

Convience StoreI am often asked whether the strategies, ideas and approaches discussed here on my blog can be applied to small business. The answer, in the best marketing speak, is “yes” and “no”.

For while it is easy to get caught in the endless repetition of strategic planning, creating a continuous digital strategy can be quite fast. If you know what you are doing, you can knock it over in a lazy afternoon. Unfortunately, you can also easily fall into the state of “analysis paralysis” – where you are unable to shift beyond one part of a process due to the volume of information you are trying to assimilate. My advice is to start as SMALL as you possibly can.

DialupGuideToBlogging However, if you really are a small business and you want to get started with blogging – AND you want to do it in a way that is SCALABLE, can help you GROW your business and delivers RESULTS, then my advice would be to check out The Dialup Guide to Blogging.

I wrote this short (43pp), easy-to-read guide to blogging with the individual in mind – but the lessons and approaches apply equally to the small business. No matter whether your brand is personal or business, there is plenty to learn, and the book covers all the bases of digital strategy as well as the all important DOING IT part:

The book takes you through the practical steps of establishing your blogging objectives, creating domain names, signing up for a blog, creating your online "footprint" and writing your first posts. It is a must for anyone wondering HOW to get started.

And the best part – you can get it as a soft cover for those who are interested in “digital” but prefer non-digital books. Oh, and there is a downloadable eBook version too – for those too impatient to wait for delivery.

Five Must-Read Posts from Last Week

Peace be with all of us!I am a little out of sync after the energy and excitement of the MarketingNow! conference in Melbourne (I will be writing up my thoughts over the next few days – so make sure to check back).

But here are five excellent posts that I missed – and thought I’d share with you:

  1. The Plague of Plagiarism – what happens when your blog posts and ideas start appearing across the web – without attribution? Peter Kim delves into the subject and creates a dynamic conversation around this tricky and touchy topic.
  2. Mack Collier looks at Seth Godin’s launch of his fancy brand-version of Squidoo – or what Mack calls the “fast food version of social media engagement”.
  3. As if to prove that the future of your brand is social, Google unveils SideWiki – a new tool that allows ANYONE to comment on your website. Jeremiah Owyang explains why it changes the game (and if you have it installed, you can see the message that I left for you on my home page!).
  4. Francois Gossieaux suggests that we should look more deeply at the behaviour of our customers – and tap into the signals, symbols and rules to promote engagement.
  5. Gordon Whitehead goes from rant to activism in his efforts to get people voting in the NSW AMI election. If you are a member, check out Gordon’s voting recommendations!

Do YOUR Products Live Up To The Type?

“Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service.” – Jeff Bezos (via Ruth Mortimer)

I was reminded of this quote by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos whilst reading Alan Wolk’s excellent rant on VW’s decision to fire Crispin Porter Bogusky:

You see the problem with VW isn’t the advertising, it’s the cars themselves. At a time when most people’s first stop in the car buying process is Google (or Bing) it’s clear that what VW needs is not better advertising, but better cars.

AnciennesAlan then goes on to list various problems identified by a quick search on various car forums and blogs. But the same is likely to be found for any other car brand – you can find my own rant about Tim Jackson’s ill-fated Saturn here. Simply do a search on the name of your next (or current) car and add the word “problem” or “lemon” and you will see page after page of owner gripes, rants and issues.

This is something that advertising is simply not going to fix. It’s actually not possible. You see, it no longer takes a big budget and a sexy image to reach an audience. Anyone can start a blog for free and begin corralling opinion. And you know what? It is all captured by Google. Every word, every rant, every unsubstantiated comment (and every truth) is indexed by Google, assessed for inbound links, page rank and a number of other elements and then presented as fact to the unwary web surfer.

For brands, sticking your head in the sand is no longer an option. Consumers are increasingly turning to online opinion, blogs, social media, ratings and reviews as a way of framing their own purchase decisions – and if your voice is not part of the mix, then you are leaving your brand entirely in the hands of others. Is this a bad thing? It can be. It can also astoundingly positive.

The challenge now is not JUST good products and services – these are the new cost of entry into the market. What you need now is love, sweet love. You need the love of your fans. You need products that live up to the TYPE – to the words and stories of your consumers. For without that, no amount of advertising will permanently buy you the front page of Google.

Teen Commandments for Brands

46_very_dangerousI remember reading this great post by Ruby Pseudo late last year and thinking it was a great way to understand social media in general (as well as teens specifically).

One of my favourite of the ten commandments is this:

10. Finally, with Facebook and MySpace etc, please remember that you’re in their (digital) space: they didn’t ask you to be there, and they can’t very well ask you to leave, so talk nicely. And if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all …

Interestingly, “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” sounds like something my Grandma used to say. I have a feeling she would have gotten on well in the social media world.