What’s in a social impression? Better yet, what does branding actually mean to the consumer? Building a brand culture is about much more than proliferating an image or ad across social platforms, because that sort of recognition is fleeting.
You may find the occasional unicorn who shares photos of your product’s packaging, perfectly positioned in a well-lit selfie, or mentions the hashtag from your soft drink can on their Twitter page. Great. But what’s next?
Getting in front of the masses isn’t enough
Too often, being seen is justified as an end in itself, and it’s nothing new. Babe Ruth was hawking cola, breakfast cereal, and underwear before most of us were born. If a branding opportunity feels forced, most consumers can sniff it out from a mile away.
Today’s social marketing has expanded the concept of product placement to the masses to where every consumer is a potential ad rep. And if you can convince people to share about your product in an authentic, personal way, then you’re certainly on the right track. John Andrews, CMO of GoodXChange, wrote a great piece on the topic: Brand Building Through Conversational Correlation.
The problem comes when “share our product because you actually enjoy using it,” is replaced by “share our brand because we put a hashtag on the package.” The person sharing the photo might be all-in with the brand either way, but their social connections aren’t likely to be moved. As John puts it in his article, “For brands to be relevant along the digital path to purchase it will be critical to create conversational competency across channels beyond push driven marketing.”
Quality and service trump image every time
The marketing mindset of brands needs to change to fit today’s digitally conversational consumer, yet many are still making the mistake of thinking that their image is enough to carry them. We see it all the time. For example, a brand that rushes a new product to market to meet a deadline assuming people will buy it anyway because of the name on the package. Or when a utility provider mixes above-market prices with poor customer service because they’re the only viable brand on the block.
Consumers today are much better equipped to separate the brand from the quality of the product or service in question, and they talk to each other! If the latest flagship iPhone or Galaxy S is a step back from the previous generation, there’s no hiding from the fallout. If your cable company offers high prices, onerous long-term contracts, and customer service with a sneer, people can opt for streaming services instead. The consumer’s connection to a brand is important, but it needs to be backed by quality and a genuine, personal connection. People like to talk to people—not logos.
Building a meaningful brand requires a personal touch
No matter how a person chooses to connect with your brand, they need something more substantial than a familiar package and a well-known name. It’s often the little, positive moments that matter most, and those little moments are hard to manufacture if you’re not committed to quality across the board. A friendly, helpful customer care rep or retail employee will naturally build brand loyalty in consumers, simply by doing their job well.
This is doubly true when a helpful exchange happens on social media, where everyone can see it – even when the consumer’s initial comment was posted in frustration. Resolving a challenge in a respectful, open way may not fit with viral marketing, but those little moments make a major impression over time. In the digital age, it’s conversation that drives brand reputation; conversation between brand and consumer, as well as conversation between consumers about the brand.
These are not new concepts, but they’re often just paid lip service before being discarded in favor of the trend of the moment. A catchy ad, clever social marketing campaign, or recognizable package still has real value in raising awareness, but the best marketing needs to make a lasting impression. The only way to build a sturdy foundation for your brand is by treating consumers as informed, valuable individuals through every channel of interaction, rather than data points in campaigns.
This requires a big shift in thinking in regards to brand culture. It’s less about image and more about relevance, and brands that stubbornly refuse to change will lose out to those that recognize and embrace opportunities to be more relevant to consumers.