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Brand Building Tips for a Digital World

Listening to customers has always been important, and social media sites create new opportunities to do this

Published: Mar 25, 2010 07:25:13 AM IST
Updated: Apr 3, 2010 01:46:30 PM IST

Social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn empower consumers and give marketers less margin for error, “Brand Digital” author Allen Adamson said Oct. 5 during a live webcast at Thunderbird.

“The rules of effective brand building have not changed, but digital media have magnified what has always been true,” said Adamson, who spoke to global marketing students at the invitation of Thunderbird Professor Rick Baer.

Kryptonite Lock found out the hard way in 2004 about the power of digital technology. The company promised an unbreakable bicycle lock, but a Seattle whistle-blower figured out how to pick the lock using nothing more than a ballpoint pen. He posted a 30-second demonstration on YouTube, which embarrassed Kryptonite and forced the company to replace 400,000 locks in 21 countries for free.
“If you don’t deliver on your promises in the digital age, everybody finds out faster,” Adamson said. “Your customers have more options now than writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper.”
Adamson, managing director of the New York office of Landor Associates, described at least seven opportunities and guidelines for brand builders in the digital age.

Become a fly on the wall
Listening to customers has always been important, and Adamson said social media sites create new opportunities to do this. Market researchers no longer have to visit homes or watch focus groups through one-way windows. New technology allows them to eavesdrop on conversations that happen every day online.

“Digital has allowed you to become a fly on the wall — to listen faster and better,” Adamson said. “People online are open to sharing the most intimate details about themselves.”

Make yourself relevant
Relevant differentiation has always been important in marketing. In other words, brand owners need to identify something different about their product or service that customers care about. Adamson said digital technology makes relevance more important than ever.

“People are online to do something,” he said. “So make sure the difference you communicate is relevant to their lives.”

Be crisp, clear and sticky
Adamson said digital technology has moved society “back to the future,” when people used to talk to their neighbors over the backyard fence. Brand managers need to provide these neighbors with crisp, clear, sticky messages that travel well from one person to the next. Adamson said companies also need to spend time driving their message internally among employees.

“If your message isn’t crisp, it doesn’t travel well over the virtual backyard fence,” he said.

Deliver on your promises
Kryptonite Lock provides one example of the heightened need to deliver on brand promises in the digital age. Adamson said Starbucks might provide another example with its new line of instant coffee. Starbucks promises great coffee, which could cause problems for the brand if the VIA Ready Brew line doesn’t measure up.

“If they survive this with only minor damage to the brand, I’ll be surprised,” Adamson said.

Enable conversation
Companies in the digital age also need to provide their customers with platforms for conversation. Adamson said Johnson & Johnson has done this with BabyCenter.com, an online forum for young parents. The site downplays the Johnson & Johnson affiliation, but it allows the company to stay current on relevant baby care issues.

“This is a terrific platform to have conversations with customers,” Adamson said.

Embrace what you can’t control
Companies in the digital age can’t always control the conversation or the flow of information. Airlines, for example, can’t control the information that customers share on seatguru.com, which provides customer reviews of each seat on each aircraft.

Adamson said many airlines choose to ignore this site, which could hamper their relationship with their customers — who end up finding the information anyway.

“Many touch points are outside your control,” Adamson said. “You can respond by either ignoring or embracing these social media sites.”

Optimize as you go
One final impact of digital technology is an accelerated timeline for developing and delivering a brand message. Adamson said companies need to respond by optimizing their message as they go. “Things happen much faster in real time,” he said.


[This article has been reproduced with permission from Knowledge Network, the online thought leadership platform for Thunderbird School of Global Management https://thunderbird.asu.edu/knowledge-network/]

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