Brand and Branding

Who owns your brand?

I don’t mean this in a “does you consumer now control the brand?” kind of way. I mean it in a, “where do people go to connect with your brand?” kind of way. I was flipping through an in-flight magazine yesterday and noticed a two-page spread for a diaper company. There was a massive call to action in the bottom right-hand corner of the print ad that said something like: “to lean more, please follow us on Facebook.” I found myself asking a very simple question: “what is this brand of diapers doing on Facebook that is so unique to the brand experience that it can’t be done on their own website?” The answer (after a quick review) is nothing. This brand’s Facebook page isn’t doing much to leverage the power of the social graph or use Facebook’s functionality to extend the brand narrative in a unique way. They’re just using Facebook as a place to have a less-interactive and less-branded website.

Why is it less-branded?

What’s better: one clear message or five messages on the same page? When you have you own website, you control the amount of messaging and the engagement. When you have your brand page on Facebook (and I’m using Facebook as a euphemism for any online social network, be it Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn or whatever), your brand is housed within the Facebook branded experience and there could be ancillary brands (or advertisements, whatever) in the mix as well.

The tough question.

Brands have to start asking themselves one very tough question: are we on Facebook because it makes our brand experience better and leverages the power of these millions of connected people, or are we on Facebook, because there are a lot of people there and we have been unable to garner that level of attention with our own digital experiences and spaces? Facebook isn’t bad. Facebook is great. But, Facebook is only great to the brands that people care about, and it’s only great when those brands are already connected to their consumers and leverage the Facebook experience to do a whole lot more.

Brands are getting lazy.

It’s not just brands, it’s also the agencies that serve them. With each and every passing day, I’m seeing more and more brands forgo their own web and mobile experiences to use social media environments as their primary place to connect. Years ago, I cautioned against this. It became a more prescient concept when MySpace collapsed as Facebook began to gain its momentum. At the time, I had many of my musician friends suddenly lose their entire audience. Back then, it was much easier to build and update a MySpace page than it was to build and nurture a unique website. The problem is that when everyone started bailing on MySpace, the bands were left with little community. On top of that, they had no way to take the sweat equity (content, connections and more) to another platform. They didn’t own it. MySpace did. When MySpace changed their rules, the bands were affected but couldn’t do much about it. Same with Facebook: it’s their playground and they can take their ball and go home whenever they want.

Today.

Today, more and more brands are doing the exact same thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, Google + or whatever. They’re allowing their brands to not only play second fiddle within the compounds of these online social networks, but they’re selling their brands short with the shiny, bright objects du jour instead of looking out on to the horizon. Why is this such a big deal? We’re seeing our world become more and more mobile. Facebook, Google and everyone else have yet to demonstrate how they’re going to take their current connections of users and migrate them over to a mobile platform that is just as engaging and compelling as what we’re seeing in the current browser-based format. What makes any brand (and agency) think that they’re going to get this right? Immediately, any brand can create a new website in HTML5 and leverage responsive technology to develop a platform that is – at the very least – manageable across all devices and screens. At the same time, these same brands can spend as much time and money as they wish creating a better brand narrative – without the restrictions and limitations set out by any other digital media company.

Fear is the mindkiller.

It’s just easier to play in someone else’s sandbox, isn’t it? Fear is holding everyone back. Unlimited creativity and opportunity is holding these brands back. It’s a shame. A brand that can provide a true experience and extend that brand narrative by providing utility and being there – wherever – the consumer is, will be the winning brands of the near-future. If consumers want to shop the brand wherever and whenever they want, but these brands are locking themselves in to other channels and platforms, they’re missing the biggest opportunity that social technology has brought: the ability to create a powerful and direct relationship with a consumer.

In Praise Of Lazy

As excited as you and I are about Digital Marketing and Social Media, don’t ever lose sight of the fact that most people are not and will not ever really care. 

We used to talk about the 1% rule – that only one percent of an active audience will actually take the time to create content. That number has probably shifted higher because creating content is much easier and can be done in short order. It doesn’t take long to pump out a 140 character tweet on Twitter, and it’s equally easy to upload a picture or even your status on Facebook. Platforms like LinkedIn make it simple to create content by allowing people to not only update their status, but to also answer questions. It doesn’t take much to “like” something on Facebook or give a YouTube video a thumbs up (or down).

Still, the masses don’t care.

I recently overheard two people talking about Twitter. It went something like this:

  • Person #1: “How many people do you follow on Twitter?”
  • Person #2: “Only a couple of hundred.”
  • Person #1: “Do you ever talk to them?”
  • Person #2: “You can talk to people?”
  • Person #1: “Yeah, you use the @ sign and then they know you’re replying to something they said.”
  • Person #2: “Why would I want to do that?”

I can’t make this stuff up.

If the amount of people who open a Twitter account but hardly use it isn’t staggering to you (more on that here: Twitter users not so social after all), imagine the percentage of people on places like Facebook, YouTube and beyond who don’t even understand the basics of how to get the most out of their online experience. It’s not an indictment on the good work we’re all doing, it’s a reality.

How much work do you want to do?

There was a lot of buzz the other week about Digg and their all-new redesign (which included some additional site functionality). Many people think that Digg is doing this because their traffic is plummeting and they’re loosing relevancy in the marketplace (or that they’re trying to be more attractive to brands and advertisers). It’s not that. The Digg model is simply not something that the masses care about. Meaning: people just want the news. They want it well-produced (in text, images, audio and video) and they want it filtered and edited. Most people come home after a long day of work and they want to unwind. They don’t want to scour the Web for information, create a profile, upload a link, Digg it, comment on it, share it, promote it or talk about it on Twitter and Blogs.

It’s all in the balance.

Don’t be upset that the masses all don’t have Google Alerts or have a news reader set-up on their desktop. Most people are not going to download a Twitter client like TweetDeck or Seesmic Desktop so that they can have a Nasdaq-esque screen flowing constantly with each and every tweet that is related to their lives. Most people are mass media lazy. They’re used to sitting back and letting the media wash over them (from a TV sitcom to an article in Vanity Fair). They want to be entertained. They want to forget about their work day. They’re not interested in working more or creating their own media. The balance comes in recognizing both types of people. The balance comes in creating media (as a brand) that appeals to those who just want the information versus those who want to do something with that same information.

Do you think this is going to change – and that people will become more active – or are we all just too stuck in our ways?

Social Media Can Change The Corporate Culture

Most corporate cultures are what they are. Some have been around for decades. Others have had the same corporate culture for a century (or longer). Change is never easy, but change does happen. 

There’s this old trucker saying that goes: “if you can’t change people, you change people.” The truth is that not every competent individual is right for every company, and there are also some serious nincompoops who manage to stick with a company longer than anyone can fathom. Beneath the many layers of individuals, personal politics, power shifting and HR is a corporate culture. The brand’s raison d’ĂȘtre. It is not something that changes easily, but it does change. Mark W. Schaefer over at the Grow Blog doesn’t seem to think it’s possible. In his Blog post, Can social media change your company’s culture? I doubt it (September 22nd, 2010), he calls me out for saying that Social Media is changing corporate culture during our recent Podcast debate on Ghost Blogging (more on that here: SPOS #214 – The Ghost Blogging Debate With Mark W. Schaefer).

Social Media can’t change a corporate culture…

And, here’s why Mark thinks this way: “The idea that you could transform a company culture just because it needs to create a Twitter account or YouTube channel is probably fanciful. I believe the companies who are succeeding on the social web are doing so because they already have a company culture that would enable and reward that success. A well-managed, market-oriented company with a legacy of customer-centricity is going to do well with social media — and any other marketing innovation that comes down the line. If you look at a list of the most successful companies on the social web, there really aren’t any surprises are there? Their cultures are pre-wired to succeed.”

Social Media is not from within.

Mark is one-hundred percent accurate. A company that is customer-centric and open to innovation will probably be more successful in platforms like Twitter and YouTube, but that’s not my point. Take a look at Dell prior to Jeff Jarvis and his infamous Dell Hell post. What made Dell turn the corner was not a proactive decision to embrace Social Media. In fact, it was the total opposite. Social Media did not come from within. It came from consumers leveraging these powerful sharing and publishing platforms to speak their minds, and the net result of this content scared Dell’s top echelon enough to start re-thinking their corporate culture and how they connect with consumers. We’re all quick to cheer Coca-Cola for embracing their consumer-generated Facebook page, but let’s not forget how unhappy the company was when the Eepy Bird guys started mixing Diet Coke and Mentos for some volcanic fun. The company was not amused and reminded people that they would prefer if people consumed Diet Coke.

Coming round.

There are countless stories of major (and minor) corporate brands that over time have begun to understand how their brands now “live” because of Social Media and the brand ecosystem (Dell and Coca-Cola are just two regularly cited ones). A new Social Media marketing platform will not change a corporate culture, but enough voices in Social Media talking, sharing, creating and doing more is likely to get attention and force change. We have to remember that Marketers – if given the choice – would probably never want Social Media. They can’t control a message and they can’t keep others from speaking publicly about them. That’s scary, but Social Media is forcing this change in corporate culture. Whether brands are doing this proactively or because they have no choice is a whole other discussion.

Push beyond Marketing.

Look at LinkedIn. People are posting their positions. Peers and customers provide recommendations. Companies now have their own profiles. All of this information that used to be so closely guarded against the corporate chest is now open for the world to see. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in enough small, medium and large corporate boardrooms to know that all of this cumulative content (beyond Marketing and Communications engagement) and information is pushing corporate culture to change. From Real Estate and big pharma to financial institutions and law offices. Change is happening… and it’s happening at the corporate culture level. It may be happening slowly for some or at breakneck speed for others, but it is happening.

What do you think? Is Social Media changing corporate culture?


Is Social Media Right For Every Business?

A great man once said, “Do or do not; there is no try.” 

Fine, it wasn’t a great man, but when Yoda said that now-classic line in The Empire Strikes Back, many a geek (myself included) nodded our heads as if it were the common-sense wisdom of the Dalai Lama. In fact, the concept of “trying” something without having a true strategy or direct outcome in mind is becoming a much more sensible approach to Digital Marketing channels. This is especially true with the varied world of Social Media, where channels and platforms like Twitter and Facebook roam wild with Chat Roulette and Wikipedia. One person’s video of six dogs chasing a gazelle with 80 million views is equally layered against an audio podcast that focuses on the best burger joints in Montreal. (No joke. Check out The Montreal Burger Report).

Is there room for businesses and brands in all this random content?

Of course there is. One of the primary reasons that businesses struggle to understand the world of Social Media is that it is often compared with one particular traditional media channel, instead of being seen as a healthy ecosystem where a bricks and mortar brand (and this includes products and services with a business-to-consumer or business-to-business focus) can create and do things with content (text, images, audio and video) across multiple areas with varying degrees of impact and audience.

PodCamp could well have been wrong.

Last week, close to 400 business professionals, hobbyists, media hackers and others with an interest in Social Media spent the weekend at UQAM listening to many different types of presentations (like Revenue Generating Trends for Bloggers, Going Against the Grain with Niche Podcasts, and Your Web Content: Forever or Fragile?) at PodCamp Montreal. What originally started as an unconference (a self-organized get-together where the content and flow of the day is organized and led by all participants), PodCamp Montreal has blossomed into a full-blown, two-day professional conference with sessions in English and French. (PodCamps happen all over the world – just do a search for one in your area).

As someone who has participated in and helped organize these types of unconferences over the years, it was surprising to hear many speakers say: “Social Media is not right for every business.”

The explanation given was that some companies simply don’t have the wherewithal. They don’t have the bandwidth, budget, resources, people, experience or the right attitude. It’s as if everything has to align like the stars to get into this very complex media mix. That kind of back and forth is a huge misconception. It’s usually done so that a company hires any one of these many consultants/speakers to pay them to do the work.

The truth is, asking, “Are social media right for my company?” is a flawed question. Instead, ask yourself: “Should my business be sharing who we are and what we do with the world?” If the answer isn’t yes, feel free to pick up the computer or mobile device that you’re reading this on and whack yourself upside the head until you realize the answer is always yes!

That’s why you’re in business: so more and more customers can find you, buy from you and tell everyone that they know how great you are.

This flawed thinking that Social Media are not for everyone happens because many of these self-anointed experts focus on only two areas of Social Media:

  1. Whatever platform is most popular (like Facebook and Twitter).
  2. The notion that Social Media are all about the “conversation” taking place online about you, your competitors and/or the industry you serve.

Those are both valid spaces to play in, but they’re not even close to the only ones or the reason to get involved in the first place.

What makes Social Media (or any other type of media) truly “social” is the ability to share. Whether that is done on an internal basis with your employees or publicly (or both), sharing is the best place to start. Share everything there is for people to know about you (news, articles, white papers, your thoughts, etc.). Share beyond your own hallowed digital walls (your website) and push that information into the channels where people who might be looking for what you have to offer frequent.

Share and share alike.

Optimizing your site so it can be found on search engines is important, but don’t forget YouTube is actually the second-largest search engine (after Google) and people are doing all kinds of searches within their online social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and beyond. They’re scanning the industry blogs and podcasts to see who is saying what about whom. The more you make your content findable, the more findable you become – everywhere.

Once you begin to benefit from this, you’ll begin to see the many additional options that are available – from tools that can help you to better collaborate both internally and by leveraging the wisdom of your crowd, to listening to the existing feedback and dialogue surrounding your brand. All this public content is there. It can help you better analyze your market position, what customers really think about you and your competitors, and it can even provide indications as to how you can improve and innovate.

Social Media is for every business… that’s just stupid.

What if you sell toilet paper? Are Social Media still right for your business? Charmin released an iPhone app called, Sit or Squat, which allows you to locate, rate, comment on and even add the whereabouts of a clean public toilet. The feature-rich application also allows you to narrow your search to bathrooms that have a baby-changing station (as one of many examples). This crowd-sourced initiative has been downloaded millions of times and – as someone who travels as frequently as I do – has a special place on the first home page of my iPhone. Charmin is enabling and empowering people like you and me to share with the intent of having a better bathroom experience (with the hope you’ll consider buying Charmin toilet paper as you make your way through your grocer’s aisle).

If Charmin can make toilet paper social, what’s got you all blocked up?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:


The Internet Is Your Media Lab

Does your company wish there was a place where you could experiment with New Media, Marketing, Advertising and Communications? 

While attending MediaCamp today in Montreal (as a preamble to PodCamp Montreal), Sylvain Carle (from Praized) suggested that maybe more media companies needed to create a media lab where they could experiment with new content platforms, revenue models and distribution channels. This may sound kind of obvious, but it already exists…

It’s called the Internet.

While it may be wise for most brands to have a premeditated strategy and plan before diving head-first into the online channel, there is nothing wrong with trying, tinkering and grappling with a few skunkwork projects online to see what kind of reception and traction you can get. Why not use the channel to experiment and try things… many, small things? You know, that whole “fail fast” model of innovation and development.

Failure to launch.

Most brands fail at the online channel (or think they’re failing) because it’s not a part of their culture (more on that here: There Will Be Blood). Many of the Journalists at today’s conference were pulling out the old, “How do you make money with a Blog?” or “No one is willing to pay me to Blog, and writing is how I make my living” types of sentiments. So, why not experiment and see if those statements really do hold up?

Here’s what you can do by making the Internet your Media Lab…

  • You can start sharing the content that has, traditionally, lived and died on paper.
  • You can open that content up to comments and commentary.
  • You can figure out what people like about it, what they don’t like and how long they spent with your content (try Google Analytics).
  • You can figure out if your content resonates (if it does, people will spread it on their own volition).
  • You can ask people to subscribe to your content (and track how many people actually care about what you’re doing).
  • You can sell ads on your space.
  • You can sell sponsorship on your space.
  • You can put Google AdWords on your space.
  • You can collect data (email addresses, profile information, etc…).
  • You can set-up a tip jar and see how much people are willing to pay for your content.
  • You can use Creative Commons, and let people distribute your content, so that your ideas can spread.
  • You can use the platform to expand your content into other media. If you’re writing, why not try audio, video, images, etc…?
  • You can engage in the comments and commentary you get as a way to build community and spark new ideas for content.
  • You can use your space like a mental gym: work out your content, daily, so that it stays fit, healthy and in shape.
  • You can use your space as a Media Lab to push your critical thinking into new directions (more on that here: Blogging Still Matters… Now More Than Ever).
  • You may get invited to speak somewhere, meet new people or learn a thing or two (or a thousand) about how people really connect with what you are doing.

… And that’s just the beginning.

Once you begin your new Media Lab, you will start to meet new people. If you’re truly connecting to them, other things will happen and you will uncover amazing strategic byproducts from your Media Lab actions. These might be PR and Marketing related, they may be new business development opportunities or you may just learn a whole new way to do what you love to do. Worse comes to worst, you will learn – in short order – that this is not for you or that your content doesn’t have the audience you once suspected.

… And one more thing…

It’s free. Well, that’s not true. You will have to pay in terms of time, effort and sweat equity, but the platforms can be free to start off (you may want to switch to a more sophisticated and flexible platform if your idea really takes off). Remember, never before – in the history of civilization – has one individual (yes, we’re talking about you) had the ability to have a thought, and be able to publish it – as professional content – in text, audio, video and images instantly (and for free) to the world… and be able to measure the results almost exactly and in near real-time.

What are you waiting for?