How to Control Your Brand in the Age of Social Media

Last Updated Jun 5, 2011 7:45 PM EDT

How to Control Your Brand in the Age of Social MediaIn a recent interview, BNET blogger Jim Edwards observed that the Internet and social media have created new challenges for brand management. He also concluded that "companies don't control their brands anymore" and smart companies are "letting consumers control their corporate image."

While I agree with Edwards' astute observation, I'd like to challenge his conclusions and suggest that, while the Internet has indeed changed the marketing landscape and the rules of the game, that doesn't mean companies can afford to give up control of their brands.

On the contrary, it's more important than ever for companies to learn how to manage their brands in the age of social media. But before we get to that, let's make sure we're on the same page, since brand management is notoriously rife with myths and misconceptions.

A company's brand isn't its logo or its advertising, although it's often associated with visual attributes and advertising campaigns. And a company's corporate and product brands aren't "owned" by brand marketers, either. At least they shouldn't be.

Here's how brand management should work:

  • Companies should anchor their brand or brand platform on a unique value proposition - a promise to customers of what their experience with the company and its products and services should be like. Brand platforms should be consistent with business goals and strategies.
  • Brand ownership and accountability should be relatively high up the org chart. The CEO or CMO should own the corporate brand and whoever owns P&L should be responsible for product brands.
  • A company's brand reputation is a direct function of actual customer experience. It's the sum total of customer interaction with the company, its communications, its people, and most importantly, its products and services.
  • If customer experience is consistent with the brand platform, then the company is delivering on its promise. Brand loyalty and value will increase. All things being equal, that will have a positive impact on operating performance.

All that said, things have certainly changed over the past couple of decades. We now live in the information age with real-time customer feedback and competitive data at consumer's fingertips. That makes it much harder to grow brand value and loyalty.

These days, you've got to have a highly differentiated value proposition. You've got to deliver on your brand promise. And, if you say you're going to do something, you'd damn well better do it. If not, then you will lose control of your brand, and that's not acceptable. Here's how to avoid that outcome:

How to Control Your Brand in a Social Media World

  1. Kill the old "brand management." According to a Forrester Research report, it's time for brand managers to stop thinking "ad budget" and start thinking differentiated products and superior customer experience. Their goals and metrics need to reflect that. Brand managers should primarily focus on using real-time customer information and feedback to dynamically update marketing programs on the fly. The days of just managing agencies and big ad media buys are over.
  2. Brand platforms must "reach" but not "overreach." The brand platform must reflect a differentiated value proposition or customer experience the company hopes to achieve and deliver on a consistent basis. It must reach far enough to outperform competitors and increase market share, but it can't overreach and risk failure to deliver and brand disaster. That's a tough sweet spot to hit.
  3. Don't make promises you can't keep. The real-time, social media marketplace is ruthless and unforgiving. These days, broadcasting what you plan to do in advance is riskier than ever because, if you fail to meet expectations you set, your brand will be brutally tarnished. Also, it's probably unnecessary since there's so much media noise that nobody really cares until you deliver the goods, anyway.
  4. Adopt new metrics and real-time customer feedback. This is where social media is a real game-changer and brand management needs to change as a result. Companies need to define new metrics and tools for real-time monitoring and responding to social media platforms. What we used to think of as brand preference and loyalty are now more appropriately measured by direct customer feedback and satisfaction.
  5. Respond dynamically to brand crisis. These days, problems become crises in real time. News travels at the speed of radio waves through air and light through fiber optics. If it happens, it gets Tweeted, and everyone knows it, just like that. That means plans and processes must be in place for dynamic response to crisis. If not, brands can suffer catastrophic damage in a day that takes years to undo.

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