Having worked in advertising, marketing and communications for more than 20 years, I have learned a thing or two about carefully crafting images, messages and 'brand personalities.' My first career was producing television commercials back in *cough cough*.
I can remember agonizing over Coke pours on set. Beautiful acrylic ice cubes with just the right ice-like wavers. Pour after pour of Coke as the Xenon lights fired in a seizure-inducing frenzy to get the effervescence just right.
Years later, social media offered a chance at 'real-ness' and spontaneity that was not so staged. I, like a lot of people, saw social media as a chance for brands to build a more direct and human relationship with people. The qualities of genuine conversation and active listening felt like an antidote for the somewhat overwrought finesse of brand imaging (how many times did the prop guy run in to spray condensation on the glass before we shot again?)
The idea of a brand talking with customers via their Facebook wall or twitter handle seemed to go against any notions of contrivance or orchestration.
What is your social brand?
I have come full circle and now believe heavily in the purpose and benefit of brand owners carefully deciding how their brand speaks, appears and behaves in social media. Managing a social brand need not include the same fanatical attention to detail as crafting "owned" messages like the aforementioned TV spots.
When we define the 'brand voice' for how a marcom team talks to customers via social platforms, we determine:
- A role - what role will the brand play via social platforms in peoples lives (e.g. entertainer vs. coach)
- A personality - what are the characteristics of the voice of the brand
- A set of principles - how will the brand behave and respond based upon what it believes
- The brand voice (show me) - bring it to life with examples of how a brand would phrase something and how it would not
- Brand vocabulary - tactically, we also define a 'brand vocabulary' which are a set of words we will routinely use to describe products and services. This is less about contrivance than it is trying to strengthen search engine results and connect customers with relevant content through Google.
We are doing all of this for three basic reasons:
1. Consistency in how the brand speaks and behaves makes a lasting impression on people just like many aspects of marketing and communications. The brand becomes "known" by followers.
2. People appreciate connecting with real personality. This appears true both for the Captain Morgan's Facebook page where the voice is consistently from the playful Captain as it is for the celebrated Starbucks Facebook page where the voice feels like a friendly barrista yet I understand to be someone from their corporate social media team.
We must go beyond FSI (free standing insert) promotional language and voice that too many brands use as they dole out coupons and samples via their feeds. That is the functional equivalent of becoming a discount or price brand where the only value the brand can think to offer people is 30 cents off.
I firmly believe that every brand owes it to their customers to carefully think through the qualities of their social brand. The harder part is rolling that out internally and externally on the global web such that it makes sense in Mumbai and in Cape Town and to the brand managers or communications pros behind the local market social effort.