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As soon as the marketing world gets a handle on strategic branding, the whole game changes.
Marketers strive day after day to make businesses seem relevant to the world around them, with the intention of that relevancy translating into profits.
And social media drastically changed that world.
In order to empower your branding on social media, you have to understand and adapt to digital crowdculture.
Douglass Holt of the Harvard Business Review takes a deep dive into this modern phenomenon, examining the big cultural difference between branding “then” and branding “now”.
What Holt explains essentially boils down to this:
Our culture used to originate with fringe groups, artists and social movements. Then, mainstream media and brands filtered it to the masses as they used it to gain traction for their own brands.
It’s kind of like a cultural game of telephone. The message gets watered down while someone makes money by putting their logo on it.
Just think about the size of homemade bell bottoms worn by the hippies at Woodstock versus the flared jeans worn by everyone not long after hippy culture went mainstream.
That kind of branding worked because the rest of the world wasn’t at Woodstock. There were natural geographic, lifestyle and cultural barriers between these culture-generating fringe groups and the rest of the world.
Those walls came crumbling down when social media connected the world.
Now, subcultures influence the world directly, and within seconds, without having to know each other or even leave the comfort of our homes. Fads, trends and new ideas can go viral as quickly as the newest video of unlikely animal friends.
Not only do these subcultures have an amazing new digital soapbox to influence us all with, they are louder and more powerful than ever. No matter how odd or specific your interests are, it’s easy to find another group of humans online that share your passion.
In the age of social media, successful branding isn’t about what you’re saying as much as it’s about who you’re aligned with.
Branding Strategies for Social Media
Start with a Brand Guide
The strategy: Create a comprehensive brand or editorial style guide to how your brand should look and sound in every marketing medium and social media channel. This can be done with the help of pros like us or by your own marketing team with an easy-to-follow template like this one.
The challenge: If you’re using social media as robustly as you should be, you need more than one person behind the helm of your brand. So, there’s bound to be different interpretations of your brand voice and image. That kind of disjointed brand personality can do serious damage to the public perception of your brand and damage the trust you’ve worked so hard to earn.
The benefits: With a brand guide, you’ve got an owner’s manual explaining exactly what the brand should sound like in every place it appears. Now, anyone can steer your marketing message with complete consistency.
Stand for Something
The strategy: Define your core values, mission and vision. Consider every angle of what your brand believes in, from the simple to the controversial, as if it’s a real person. Then, record, distribute and stand by those principals on social media.
Go beyond the obvious, like religion or politics, and into silly opinions that relate to your business or brand personality, such as cats versus dogs and morning people versus night owls.
The challenge: People can’t identify with you if you don’t stand for something. Sure, having an opinion about anything is going to turn some people away, but it’s worth the loyalty you’ll gain from others.
The benefits: Consumers are more fiercely loyal and much more likely to promote brands they can identify with on a personal level, for almost ANY reason. Social media is all about showcasing what makes us individuals, then using that to connect with one another. Opinions will help you connect with the right like-minded consumers.
The strategy: Use your brand guide (or editorial style guide) to fully flesh out your brand’s personality with quirks and little details. Then, give your marketers free reign to get creative on social media to reveal your authentic personality naturally, through real interactions. Use posts, responses, videos, music and photos to be funny, surprising, empathetic and real. Show us your candid side, your unscripted videos and genuine responses that didn’t go through a whole approval process before posting. Learn more about shaping your strategy here and here!
The challenge: Consumers are more wary and tired of marketing messages than they’ve ever been. Authenticity makes people stop to pay attention and builds trust faster. On social media, there is nothing between you and your consumers and nothing to shield your brand from the backlash of an unhappy audience.
The benefits: Be one of the smart brands on social media by building an army of loyal followers with your authentic personality. Not only will this digital posse love and support you, they’ll be vocal brand evangelists, spreading your authentic voice far and wide across the digital realm.
Use Social Media to Sell Your “Why”
The strategy: People didn’t purchase the first iPhone with Facetime because Apple told us it was great. We bought it because Apple showed us the emotional experience of using Facetime to have special moments with the people we love, anywhere we go, day or night.
DO NOT use social media to sell your product or service. People will tune you out faster than they can click away from a TV commercial.
DO use social media to sell the “why” of using your products and services. Show us life 2.0, give us FOMO and appeal to our baser desires as humans. (Hint: they aren’t desires for buying more stuff. They’re desires for love, happiness, safety, purpose and a sense of belonging.)
Learn more about using your content to sell the “why” here!
The challenge: Using social media to sell is like punishing people for choosing to pay attention to you in their free time. Be entertaining, helpful, educational, funny– basically give consumers any good reason to follow you on social media other than what you sell.
The benefits: You’ll be using social media for its intended purpose: culture and connection. So you won’t be able to self-sabotage your social by hard-selling where hard-selling doesn’t belong. Instead, you’ll be leading your social media content the same way all of your inbound marketing content should be led, by telling the story of intangible benefits bigger than any one product or service.
Find Your Tribe
The strategy: Get out there and make friends with like-minded folks. There are social media groups for EVERYTHING. So think about your brand’s core values, what you stand for and your brand personality. Then seek out subcultures full of your ideal buyer personas. Post in their forums, respond to their comments and engage with their community.
The challenge: The social media world is just too big for meaningful interactions with everyone. So you’ll get a better ROI if you focus your efforts on the people that matter most to your bottom line, those who share your values and are most likely to become customers.
The benefits: When your brand finds the right place and people to really begin engaging and interacting, you’re no longer a product on a shelf, you’re a member of a community. And you’ll gain trust, respect, followers, engagements and more by connecting with subcultures that share your beliefs. As a bonus, you’ll naturally give valuable context to your brand by publicly supporting the groups you fit into best.
Harness the Power of Influencers
The strategy: Fast track your way into the hearts and minds of a relevant digital audience following by hooking up with a social media mogul who can tout your brand to their loyal followers.
The challenge: Even when you’re following best practices, it takes time, persistence and a lot of hard work to build a strong brand on social media.
The benefits: Think of influencers as that friend who knows the door guy at the club that’s hard to get into, or a really popular kid in high school. Once they’ve proclaimed that you’re cool too, all of their friends are much more likely to instantly trust you, accept you and buy the same products or service their favorite influencer has.
Branding on social media isn’t rocket science, it’s just a new ballgame. And it’s OK to make mistakes. New media has a short attention span, no matter how badly you screw up. Still, with a little thought and planning you can do social media branding better from the start. Be intentional, be authentic and market your brand in a social media mindset.