Contributed by Bernie Brennan and Lori Schafer
Everywhere you look, people are using social media to share their views about brands, often from their mobile devices, in a store aisle, or while “checking in” at a location with an app like Foursquare. We now live in a new world of consumer-driven communication. Our new book from the Wiley and SAS Business Series, Branded! How Retailers Engage Consumers with Social Media and Mobility, shows retailers and other consumer-oriented companies how to “get inside customers’ heads” as a result of this new digital method of listening and engaging with consumers.
It would have been incredibly difficult for either of us to have written this book alone. We needed each other’s experience. And the digital world is changing daily, so writing the book, over many months, while trying to keep current, was a constantly moving and accelerating target. But, on the other hand, that’s exactly why we wrote Branded! It represents the confluence of consumers and retailers engaged with the aid of rapidly improving technology— what we refer to as “the new digital world.” Looking back to 12 to 18 months ago, it wasn’t clear how big this social revolution would become; but with "the consumer now in charge," we knew it would be unlike anything that any of us have ever seen.
In writing Branded! we held to a fundamental premise. Social media and mobility, on their own, will not change the fortunes of a company. Rather, social media and mobility are extensions of a company's culture and strategy, and if communicated effectively, they will strengthen its market share and brand equity.
Companies like to learn from their peers. So we set out to research and interview senior executives from companies that were early leaders in these new digital channels. Leadership didn’t mean one or two departments executing several successful initiatives. Leadership meant senior management embracing these new digital channels—and the transparency that comes with them—as part of their overall strategy and culture. We focused on finding leaders from various sectors and getting them to open up, on the record, about all they are doing and why.
The headline companies featured in Branded! are some of the world’s best. Starbucks is viewed as the number-one brand leader of social media with over 16 million friends on Facebook. Best Buy has embodied social media and mobility into its entire culture and strategy and is empowering its young employee base to build what it calls the "connected world." Zappos, whose culture is its brand, has over 2 million followers on Twitter and 500 of its employees tweeting and rapidly spreading its unique service-based culture. Wet Seal, who penetrated the teen market with its Outfitter social network, continues to be an innovator, announcing its Farmville-like Facebook game “Chic Boutique.” Macy's has developed a “digital hub” and is winning with its MyMacy's localization strategy. 1-800-Flowers.com was a trailblazer in mobile and social shopping and has made them key to its overall strategy. Pizza Hut, a major unit of Yum! Brands, is known for its award-winning "killer" iPhone app and its ubiquitous Tweetologist.
So where does all this go from here? Although the early adopters have staked their positions and the list of companies successfully implementing these digital initiatives continues to grow, most companies are still far behind these leaders. We will continue to listen, learn, and communicate. Branded!—the book—is only the beginning of what we expect to be a long, exciting, and ever-changing journey.
This new digital era is in its infancy. Every day we hear about retailers’ entrees and success in using social and mobile strategies. New leaders are emerging. We’d love to hear from you. Tell us which companies you believe are doing social media and mobility “right” and how they are going about it. We invite you to post a comment on our Web site, on Twitter, or on Facebook. We look forward to continuing the conversation!