Standing out in the social media herd

When you are at a party..and you look around, who do you want to talk to? The people who look interesting or the people who are sitting by themselves? Do you look at what people are wearing at this point and make a judgment about them? Whether we like it or not, the exterior says a lot about us and people make decisions about the exterior. Deep down, we know this, so we usually spend some time cultivating the exterior. When someone approaches us, we probably also have a our “party personality” front in center. This is our best foot forward, the person who laughs at other’s jokes, searches for things in common, is conscientious about the other’s feelings and listens; in part this makes us a good party guest.

For a company, the exterior and “party personality” are known as the brand. Years ago, the brand was a logo or an icon, maybe a character. Then later, the brand was a feeling that customers had when they thought of or used the product. Today the idea of brand has evolved. Its a combination of a company’s culture, the public’s perception and yes, the emotions the brand elicits from customers and potential customers. Brand =Company Identity. “Brand” is a single word for a complicated mix of elements that a company knowingly or unknowingly emits to its potential customers. Brand is also what sets you apart from the herd; distinguishes you in the mix of options customers have today. Most businesses would like to have control over that. Big companies spend millions on branding initiatives that include advertising, events, social media, and PR.

How important is the brand to small and medium sized businesses? Its equally as important to develop your brand. Don’t you want your customers to have a strong (positive) emotional reaction when they buy your product, visit your store or website? Wouldn’t you like to have customers come to you over your competitor because they trust you more? Because they just feel better buying your product?

But for the average small to medium business, millions of marketing expenditures for branding (as opposed to call to action) are not in the budget. Which is ironically, why so many businesses turn to social media; social media is perceived as free. Except its not. Social media should be part of your overall mix, but you shouldn’t consider it free. The TOOLS are free. But here’s what isn’t free:  time investment in developing a strong social media presence, in participating in conversations, in creating a strategy for your social media.

A well developed brand is extremely important in all kinds of marketing endeavors, but never is that more true than in interactive mediums like events and social media. The more evolved the brand, the easier it is to be consistent in voice, the easier it is to participate in conversations. The easier it will be to create live in-person experiences that your customers will enjoy.  Further, when the brand puts on its party hat and joins the conversation of social media and the engagement of event marketing it will need to do all the same things that the good party guest does. As important as listening is, you’ll still need to participate in the conversation. What WILL the brand say?

An extremely important part of a well developed brand is your story. What’s the history of the company? What makes it special?  If you think of a company’s story as the backbone to a brand, now you can begin to imagine what a brand might be for your company. When did it start? How did it start? Why? Who were the first employees and where are they now? What tools were necessary for the job then and how is that different (or not) from now? What’s the personality of your company and who is its driving force? What makes the company special – no, not what’s your value proposition, but what really makes your company stand out? More importantly, how do customers feel about your company and products? Are they passionate? Indifferent?

With a well developed brand, suddenly, many things become possible. There is suddenly lots to share and say about the company, while at the same time, sharing information that your customers might be interested in. A solid brand gives the business a voice, and identity.  Maybe your brand isn’t well developed (yet) but you want it to be. Social media is a great outlet for that (in most cases). With social media, you can identify your brand advocates. You can solidify the image of your company through conversation and information sharing.

So, before you start your social media program, give some thought to your brand. It will help you develop a more well-rounded, integrated and most importantly, successful social media campaign.