On a recent trip to SAS, Paul Greenberg shared his thoughts and ideas about marketing and social media. He pointed out that the rise of social media is not simply a change in how we do business; it signals a deeper transformation in how humans communicate online.
Paul cited examples, some real-time, of companies that have suffered the negative impacts of this communication transformation. In each example, something was going wrong. And in each case, the “going wrong” quickly escalated into a proverbial “PR nightmare,” when the company reacted either too slowly, or in a way that was out of alignment with expectations, as might happen if a company—having built their brand as a quality leader—reacted obstinately to a quality problem.
This is a lesson so basic it's way before marketing 101: pay attention, or else. Communicating a brand promise is meaningless if you fail to deliver on that promise. Yet the people communicating and the people delivering live in different worlds, or at least different organizations. Effective brand strategists know that aligning what you say with what you do is Job 1. Marketing, with all its knowledge about customer needs and wants, has to be in step with operations, with all its knowledge of how and when to get things done.
Social Media has a way of seeking out and magnifying any saying/doing contradictions, so internal alignment is ever more important. If you say you’re a quality leader but act like a value leader, social media will find you. Or, more precisely, it will enable crowds of current and potential customers to highlight the contradiction, with rapid speed, in a very public way. Of course this is the beginning of a downward spiral leading to apologies, recalls, or worse. So, what to do?
Focus outside and inside. Listen to everyone, on every (relevant) social media network, everyday. Then, share the meaningful bits of what you hear across the company, to everyone who touches a customer, and to everyone who could benefit from a better understanding of customer sentiment. Then act. Immediately, as best you can, in accordance with your values as a company.
Additional thoughts about branding can be read in a great Editor’s Letter published in the May, 2010 issue of Vanity Fair magazine. This letter, written by VF’s Editor Graydon Carter, is titled “And the Brands Played On.” In it, Graydon examines how both corporate and personal brands have suffered of late. He doesn’t explicitly mention social media, but consider the points he raises in light of Paul Greenberg’s thoughts, concerning social media signaling a change in how we communicate. We’ve all come to expect the ability to interact, and increasingly we’re all coming to expect transparency, accountability and relevancy from the brands we relate to.
And you – are you paying attention? Do you agree? What do you think?