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My Rant - Social Branding for the C-Suite

Photo courtesy of http://www.blastradius.com/ideas/page/6/

Photo courtesy of http://www.blastradius.com/ideas/page/6/

I admit it - I don't blog nearly enough or nearly enough about things perhaps I should. It isn't that I am lazy - quite the opposite. Anyone who knows me or follows my social stream on platforms like Twitter or here in my personal pages knows that I sleep very little and spend an average of ten days a month tweeting from 30,ooo ft on airplanes and working with global clients on their total social strategy.

Our agency has grown exponentially in number of employees and revenue over the past twelve months. No whining about the ROE (return on effort) in the midst of the GFC. At MMG, we don't spend a lot of time pontificating about social media strategy, we just get it done. In 2010 on a business trip - yes it was admittedly fun - to the Latin Grammy Awards show and relating Heineken events I had the chance to talk with a friend who was considering a CMO role at one of the Top 5 Consulting firms in America. (All parties will remain nameless.) As well as enjoying some great Latin hospitality and exploring brand strategies that are making real connections with their customers at an experiential level (like Verizon and Hennessey) I had the chance to listen to various executives of major FMCG brands, telcos and service providers articulate their fears and lack of initiative in the social space. For those with the biggest marketing budgets to wield and the greatest understanding of their segmentation by audience and region there was still a false perception on the value of social interaction. More than one person expressed the general malaise:

"Social media is for pimple-faced college students on Facebook and not worthy of the C-Suite."

It was almost as if connecting with the common folks, the end consumers - even from the arms length of digital - was beneath them. This ethos troubled me.

Most of the time I spend strategically is not designing award winning micro-sites or Facebook Fan Pages. What I do spend most of my time on is a the C-level and demonstrating how social commerce is changing the way that brands and marketers look at business. Overlooked most at the Board level is the ability to drill down to audiences what is most important to the customer, and then deliver products that they want and need. Further is the ability to listen to consumers, en masse and all the time. The mystery shopper turn around time of three weeks to deliver feedback becomes more like three minutes to a switched brand who invests in listening and actioning social data.

That said at the end of the day, and ironically, corporate suits have the same burning questions and desires as the end consumers. "What's in it for Me?"

CEOs, CMO and CIOs have similar issues. They each want to know how to use social media more strategically.  According to the Harvard Business Review, today's leaders use social media for three reasons.

  1. Numero Uno: because it is the lowest cost method/platform on which to build your personal brand communicating who you are both within and outside your company. The company website will only tell a searching individual so much and most of the information conveyed will be styled towards that company's segmentation of customer, investor or searching media entity.
  2. Numero Dos: C-Suite execs use social media because it is an easy way to engage with peers, employees and customers and further the end, end audience.  The use of social platforms are especially sexy to those attracting a younger customer base of digital natives. Just image the stodgiest of brands creating rich meaning with the next generation of thought leaders who may not look great in a proper neck tie. If brands can lose the tie and make the real, meaningful connection or as my friend Brian Solis calls it, goes to the 'last mile' level of engagement, not only do they have a stronger customer with a longer life span, but a passionate advocate who will deliver their passion in a 'friends to friends' organic network that is centred around trust of the audience and engagement. It's a heady blend.
  3. Numero Tres: Smart corporate executives use social media because they know that is is a place of unparalleled learning. They know that social platforms provide an almost auto-real time response and constant customer service feedback channel. This is not a wham-bam type of social scenario -  first customers have to be educated that they have the ear of the brand and that companies are listening and further feel enough trust to share end open up honestly.  Once these two benchmarks are achieved, brands can then open the proverbial kimono and engage in prosumer-ism. (A place where customers and R&D teams co-create new products and refine existing products.)

Brands cannot be made because they are shaped by perceptions related to experiences. 3D printers are changing the game as packaging will become less and less important and the truth will lie in end products that consumers create in their own homes. What consumers want i 2014 are experiences and the C-Suite has to action this now or expect to be come irrelevant. 

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