By: Jeff Barrett
From Fortune 500s to someone who bought their first $10 set of Vistaprints, branding is important. Evident in the term being used more than Men's Wearhouse gives out guarantees. Too often, though, we get caught up in the latest, gadget, tool, piece of technology. It can be overwhelming and doesn't need to be.
There are far more constants in communications than there are variables over time. Branding has been and still is about identifying a market, creating a unique brand proposition and communicating that to a target audience in a timely, relevant and engaging fashion. It is positioning, communication and motivation.
However, advancements in technology have created more opportunities and leveled the playing field. Much attention, for good reason, has been paid to leveraging social media in corporate branding. It's a powerful tool to organize a base of support. Powerful enough to overthrow government in Egypt or get Michelle Chamuel in to the finals of The Voice.
It has been paramount in my branding, the success of my firm and in the success of many others. Still, I have to stress that it is one part of an overall communications strategy. How you put together your brand, how you identify your audience, how you choose to communicate are all first and foremost.
With my background, I realize that sounds odd. I'm one of Forbes' Top 50 in Social Media. I have a tweet chat that trends nationally every week. Humble brag. It's like Tony The Tiger saying Corn Flakes are "Goooooooood." It's like Bill Cosby eating pudding and saying it's J-E-L-L-OK. I promise, it will make sense by the end of this article.
Approach social media as the new golf course. It's where you can meet, connect, rub virtual shoulders and network in a relaxed setting. Just like golf, it has its own rules, norms, evolving standards of communication. In business, golf becomes secondary to the conversation taking place. In social media, remember that the tools you are using become secondary to the conversation taking place. It's all about conversation, not how you are organizing your timeline.
Tools are fun. I wrote half of this article by speaking in to my phone. I'm from the generation that was promised Hoverboards in Back to the Future. I get it. I still want that hoverboard. Too often, though, we read Mashable or TechCrunch and focus on what changes Facebook made. Or we get interested in what the next platform will be and how we might use it.
It's far less complicated. Branding, in 2013, can be broken down to four steps.
Define who you are
Look at your competition before you do anything else. Your brand should be true to who you are but drastically different in approach than your competitors. There usually exists an opportunity to be humorous, serious, or innovative in contrast to an existing brand. Find what makes you unique and do your best to make that apparent.
The good news is that you get to create your own path. Create a culture and communication style that is natural and fits your organization. Comfort is key in communication. From an early age I knew I enjoyed making people laugh. I made it work for me. Don't be afraid to be real, natural, approachable as a brand.
Identify your audience
Take the time to study consumer psychology, what motivates your potential customers to want to engage with a brand and share content. This is the most valuable research you can do. Identify what they want and are not getting from competitors.
"Communicate to your audience not your peers." It's fantastic advice I received from Liz Strauss. When beginning we seek out like-minded individuals. A new technology company may market to the tech community and want to be featured in Technorati or TechCrunch. That's what they read, what their friends read, it's their comfort zone. It makes sense at first glance. However, let's say that same tech company has created a mobile retail app for shoppers. It would make more sense for them to be featured in People, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue. It seems like common sense but this mistake is quite easy to make.
Identify who your audience is and their primary form of communication. Then meet them there and tailor your message.
Create timely, relevant and engaging content
Content that is clever today may be obsolete tomorrow. Timing is everything. Being creative and having a great message are only part of the equation. The first thing to consider is when you will release content. I match up content releases with trending topics or conversations. By inserting content in to popular conversation it becomes relevant. This is where having an editorial schedule for your branding and promotions is vital.
Be aware of what people want to, are talking about on any given day and use it to your advantage. Create content at the right time that is relevant to your audience. Finally, make it engaging. Give people a reason to want to interact with it, share it, ask questions, tell their friends.
Your audience is key in branding. They will build you up if you let them. They will defend you, in times of crisis, if you have built up enough equity.
Bring your audience together
This is the variable in communications. Before social media this was less of a concern. Branding was a one-on-one relationship between the company and the consumer. Now it's a collective relationship. You want to create brand loyalists that talk to each other regularly. You want them to bond collectively with your service or product.
All or at least most of this is universal. It can be done online or offline. Social media is an accelerator. It's an opportunity for small businesses to level the playing field. It's an opportunity for large corporations to seem more human, engaging.
My business model is simple. I motivate brand loyalists to share content. This initial groundswell is then used to convince conventional media (TV, radio, print) to cover the story. News media agrees because it's a known quantity with traction. The result is high exposure with limited cost or time invested.
Remember when I said social media isn't everything earlier? This is why. Social media works in accordance with conventional media, your messaging, your brand loyalists to create effective branding.
Branding is not complicated. It's a circle. Your efforts continuously cycle and work to help the next move. Position in accordance to your competition. Communicate in accordance to what your audience wants and expects. Motivate media to share your content.
Position, communicate, motivate.