Category Archives: brand communication

Magnifying Business Integrity to Market Brand Trust

business integrity

Last week, I wrote an article, “Successful Marketing is a Matter of Trust.” I suggest reading it, but the general tone is that creative advertisement is worthless unless there is truth behind it. In fact today trust may be the most important factor in winning over customer/client audiences.

As social marketing has evolved and become a key element of a brands marketing mix, many people are talking about building relationships and trust. Having strong relationships ultimately leads to a strong pipeline of sales. Establishing trust motivates initial consideration, sales, loyalty, and word-of-mouth marketing. But relationships and trust are not attributes reserved for the marketing department. Maybe it is the marketing department that looks to develop and leverage customer relationships and trust. But it is everyone’s job in the entire organization to increase relationships and trust.

What really surprises me most of all is that with all this blabber of relationship and trust building that social marketing spawns, no one is talking about the pinnacle prerequisite. That is integrity, or business integrity. Integrity is defined as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” Business integrity is doing right by your target audience. It really comes down to doing something for your customers as opposed to being in business just to satisfy a corporate agenda. How many businesses live in this culture? Yes, I believe all businesses should strive for strong revenue and profitability, but they should do so by delivering value to their target audience. I think most companies start out this way. But for some the lure of money acts like an addictive drug and reshapes focus and true goals somewhere down the line.

Now don’t get me wrong. Please do not read me as a naïve businessperson looking for companies to be actors in a Disney fairytale movie. Today, there is a much greater need for business integrity than in years past. It comes down to two audience expectations. First, as the customer characteristics change, business integrity has become not only more important, but paramount. More than 85% of millennials correlate their purchasing decisions (and their willingness to recommend a brand to others) to the responsible efforts a company is making. (Source – Millennials – The Next Generation of Consumers) The second reason that business integrity is a must is due to changing social behavior. People pass judgment on companies’ operations, practices, and commitment. The democratized public has a strong voice that travels wide and fast in our new digital world. The general public has demonstrated that they will speak their mind about worthy brands and questionable one. More and more whistleblowers have emerged because they digital world gives them power they lacked prior to the emergence of digital technologies. We have two types of whistle blowers now – both employees of a company and the brand’s target audience.

So lets assume you buy the importance of business integrity. As a marketing executive, you should magnify your company’s business integrity. This is for one simple reason – people judge companies on perceived integrity and demonstrating it wins customers. Here is an old cliché you should consider executing – “We do what we say and say what we do.” That’s right … go ahead. Make sure your corporate communication is actually reflective of your true business culture. If you have policies and procedures crafted for delivering excellence to your customers, make sure you really adhere to them. If you are committed to delivering value, stick to it. Don’t squeeze out dollars for operational costs at the expense of customer user experience. Use social media, content marketing and other digital platforms to amplify what you are doing. Your audience wants to hear how you are helping worthy causes, solving their problems, and generally leading business operations that are worthy of their purchase and loyalty.

Marketing is easiest when you don’t need to make something up. It is easiest when you have a product or service that is truly valuable to a target audience. It is easiest when you don’t have things to hide and worry about. It is easiest when your company has true integrity to deliver value where revenue and profit are the outcome. It is easiest when you have true business integrity. So go ahead. Don’t be bashful. Flaunt your business integrity and why you deserve to win the hearts and minds of your target audience.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

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Filed under behavior, brand communication, brand marketing, brand trust, brands, corporate culture

Storytelling Must Be In-Line with Brand Persona

Everyone is talking about storytelling like it is the Messiah for marketing. Actually, I think it is pretty important. Not the Messiah, but definitely a very important part of a brand’s marketing mix. But here’s the question no one has really put on the table. What if the brand story is fiction rather than non-fiction? Or to be a bit more direct, what if the stories the brand produces have nothing to do with the brand value proposition or the brand’s persona?

I bring up the question of brand storytelling alignment with what the brand stands for in light of a recent marketing campaign by McDonald’s. Rick Ferguson did an excellent job capturing “The Danger of McStorytelling.” He highlights McDonald’s “Signs” commercial and its debacle. The ads show McDonald’s Golden arch signs with caring messages rooted in the community.

McDonalds Signs

McDonald’s attempts to show a soft side by trying to say “At McDonald’s, we care. We’re more than just purveyors of empty calories; we’re a part of your community, too.” Seems nice and compelling like motherhood and apple pie. And while there are questions whether the signs are fictitious or not (Photoshop can do wonders), the real issue is that the campaign and story is totally out of line with McDonald’s value proposition and brand persona. People do not believe that McDonald’s cares as much as the signs display. It does not fit their personality. It is outside of the value proposition they deliver to their market. And thus, the public used digital and social platforms to create an uproar and protest.

There are a number of other brands that have failed in the same vein. I know this seems a bit twisted, but even though storytelling is a strong marketing ploy, you cannot just tell stories. Your stories must synch with your brand position and persona.

In an article I wrote back in 2010 “Marketing Leadership (with a hint of Social Media)”, I talked about the need for having a position statement defined. The positioning statement template looks like this:

• For …………….………… [target customer]
• Who ……………….……. [key qualifier – form]
• Our product is a ….. [product category]
• That provides ………. [key benefit]
• Unlike ………………….. [main competitor]
• Our product ……….… [key point of differentiation]

I stated, “The formation of the positioning statement is done to know exactly who you are.” I later go on to explain that all marketing communication should be tested against the positioning statement to make sure the brand persona is reinforced or at least not in opposition to what the brand value is.

Some think that taking time to define their positioning statement is just an academic exercise. But when we look at marketing campaigns like the McDonald’s campaign above, you got to wonder if “creative marketing leaders” really understand some fundamentals of successful marketing.

You should start with defining the brand position at a minimum. But I think you should take it a step further. What does your brand stand for? What is the …

• Brand vision
• Brand promise
• Brand personality

Define these. Make pretend your brand is a person. What would that person’s characteristics be? When you have this in place you are ready to do your marketing. Then you are ready to do some storytelling (among other activities).

If you just go ahead and produce a creative campaign without making sure it is in line with your brand persona, you end up getting egg on your face. Or is that Egg McMuffin on your face.

Be smart. Start with the basics before you get creative.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

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In Brands We Trust, Or Maybe Not

in brands we trust

I look at the recent debacles of Brian Williams and Bill Cosby and I am reminded how important trust is not only for people but brands too. Before the public learned that Brian Williams had embellished the truth, Williams was ranked as the 23rd most trusted celebrity in the country. After his statements about being in the middle of combat war were questioned, he fell to 835 on the list (according to The Marketing Arm). (Source) Bill Cosby had the persona of a great family man and positive role model. Then a plethora of drugging and rape allegations resurfaced. Rightfully so, his persona and brand are shattered.

What is the take away for marketers? Your persona, or brand can be destroyed by one false step. Your trust can be demolished by one bad move. Trust is something you earn and win perpetually. You always need to work to establish and sustain trust from your target audience.

I believe that brand trust is exponentially more important today than days prior to digital technology. Prior to the ubiquitous use of digital technologies and devices, almost all information about a brand and their products and services came from, and were distributed by the brand. Today, that is not true. If you do a search for a product or service on the Internet and social platforms, you will find more people referencing the brand than communication coming from the brand. Brand reputation and trust is no longer established by a fabricated company design by a company, but rather is in the hands of the democratic republic of digital users.

So given this reality, brands must now have a strategy for managing and influencing their reputation and trust factor. I really like an approach I read in a recent blog post …

Review regularly – Regular auditing of brand perception will help to assess threats and weaknesses – give you some foresight around areas to watch and emerging risks.
Show empathy – It is important to update your audiences on a regular basis and act to show that the safety and well-being of your customers is your number one priority.
Talk naturally – Consumers tend to respond badly to overwrought messages that sound too corporate or too familiar online.
Act fast – The first 24 hours of a crisis are when people are turning to each other for answers. Be ready to respond.
Become the hub of the issue – Since you know that people are looking for information on a topic, become the hub of all information. While you can’t control the conversation, make sure your opinion is prominently seen and demonstrates authority.
(Source)

There are a couple of things I would add to the bullet points above. First off, be truthful. It is easy for bogus claims and statements to be questioned and verified as false when you have so many looking and watching what you are doing. And if even one digital user unearths unsubstantiated statements, he/she has a strong way of voicing their concerns on platforms that move information to a large audience at lightning speed.

The second element I would add to the bullet points is that companies that look to win over a target audience should consider supporting a social cause that makes sense for their business. 90% of Americans are more likely to trust brands that back social causes.

While I was doing some research on issues related to brand trust, I found a very interesting point highlighted in a blog post by Bruce Turkel. In his article “Brian Williams is Toast” he talks about Bill Clinton lying when he said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Today, Clinton is one of the world’s most beloved politicians. Why wasn’t his trust destroyed? It comes down to expectations. Everyone expects politicians to lie so when he did so it really was not a big deal. Conversely, we expect journalists to not only be objective, but even more importantly, we expect them to be completely honest in their reporting. As a brand, ask yourself, what does my audience expect from me and how can I make sure I deliver. Consider Zappos, a well-respected and trusted brand. One of their company mottos is to “exceed expectations” and they deliver on this promise.

If you want to see a list of the most trusted brands, consider checking out “The 120 Most Trusted Brands” and “Top Brands: Most Trustworthy” among other resources you can find on the web. Loyalty goes hand and hand with trust. Within marketing the “net promoter score” often used as a metric to measure brand loyalty. The net promoter score takes into consideration brand “promoters,” “passives,” and detractors and applies them to the model. You can learn about NPS here and here.

The reason why I say brand trust is so much more important today than in previous years are due to digital technologies and platforms. These technological advancements have strongly changed the perceptions and behaviors of our culture as they relate to the product and services they purchase. I used the Brian Williams and Bill Cosby examples of losing trust because of the widespread coverage. But remember, your failures that lead to losing brand trust can diminish your reputation and destroy you just like the Williams and Cosby scenarios have killed their reputation, persona, and brand. Have a strategy and plan to continually win and sustain trust from your audience.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

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SocialSteve Answers – Is Social Media Dead? Is Social Marketing Dead?

Given my name, Social Steve, you are probably thinking I will answer these questions from a very subjective manner. But let me assure you, that is not the case. I will answer the questions from the most relevant perspective – examining audience behavior.

social media marketing dead or alive

Recently I read an article where Fred Wilson (one of the sharpest Venture Capitalist on the planet) stated “the social media phase of the Internet ended.” He goes on to say, “This may have happened a few years ago actually but I felt it strongly this year. Entrepreneurs and developers still build social applications. We still use them. But there isn’t much innovation here anymore. The big platforms are mature. Their place is secure.” While technologists may have hit a saturation point, people use social media ubiquitously in some form. A VC may not see a need to continue to evaluate social technology, but should marketers continue to see strong opportunities in social marketing?

If you look at Facebook these days, it is easy to say social marketing is dead. Organic reach of brand posts is at an abysmal one or two percent. Yes there continues to be opportunities for paid social to allow brands to target specific demographics for their native ads. You have to pay to play. The days of brands doing daily postings may have reached the end of usefulness. But before you dismiss social marketing, let me remind you or enlighten you that half of Americans get product recommendations from social media.

I would take this one step further and say more and more people get recommendations before purchasing products. These recommendations come from friends, online reviews, industry experts, family, and colleagues. Social media may or may not be the vehicle for this product recommendation. While the exchange of this information may or may not be digital, digital technologies including email, text, blogs with product reviews, etc. have exponentially exploded word-of-mouth marketing.

I often do social marketing training sessions for companies. I start off by defining social marketing. As I prepared for an upcoming session to be delivered this week, I included a slide I usually deliver …

social marketing defined

But for this upcoming session, I chose to highlight the communication between social users talking about the brand as opposed to communication and engagement between the brand and individual audience members. This is because new social platform algorithms limit organic reach and hamper communication between brand and user. There needs to be greater marketing attention focused on motivating users to communicate and share the brand amongst themselves.

Social marketing is not simply the use of social media. Social marketing is the art and science of inspiring communication from one person to another (or group of people) on behalf of the brand. The successful outcome of social marketing is motivating word-of-mouth marketing.

Is there anyone out there that believes that word-of-mouth marketing is not extremely valuable in motivating lead generation? Social marketing is far from dead. Anyone who is dismissing social marketing either a) is not following their target audience, or b) is allowing Facebook to be the sole platform that represents social marketing.

We need to understand our audience and evolve as they evolve. People share product/service recommendations and information that cannot be monitored and tracked by marketers. Emails. Text messages. Reading an article and/or review to yield purchase decision. These actions (and many more) are called dark social. Dark social is the word-of-mouth marketing that happens but happens in the dark … it cannot be seen.

Social marketing continues to be an important aspect to spawn lead generation. Marketers need deep commitment to developing programs that motivate people to share recommendations of their product/service. There are new innovative tactics required in social marketing. It is not as simple as putting up Facebook or Twitter posts anymore. But the foundation of social marketing, that is, the strategy and plans to get your product/service shared, is still alive and most important today.

I will emphatically declare that social marketing is far from dead. Your turn. Chime in.

Make it Happen!
Social Steve

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Filed under brand communication, social marketing, social media, social media marketing, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve, Word of Mouth Marketing

Mastering and Scaling Personalized Marketing

personalized marketing

What is the buzzword for marketing as we head into a new year? The heck with buzz. I will guarantee that you will always be successful with your marketing endeavors if you follow your target audience … their behaviors and what turns them on and off. So let’s be clear on a marketing approach that will last forever. Not buzz. Not technology invoked. It is simply “Target Audience Marketing.”

Target audience marketing means that your position, communication, and entire user experience performs for your existing and potential customer base’s needs, wants, and desires. In the words of Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) you exceed expectations. In agency speak; we call this surprising and delighting the customer. Let your customers know you want them and value them.

Nothing makes a person feel more wanted than providing a personal touch. Something that says I recognize you as an individual with a unique lifestyle and interests. How does it feel when someone actually reaches out to you and shows they know something about you and crafts a message for you based upon this knowledge as opposed to mass marketing? It feels pretty good. It makes you feel wanted.

Today, you can capture information about people very easily. People unveil characteristics about themselves in their social profiles and their post. Take time to look at their social presence.

Intuitively, most people know this is a winning approach that will yield successful results. But a majority of marketers are scared off fearing that way too much time is necessary. I hear you. Scaling personalized marketing is definitely a challenge.

I can recommend how to scale personalized marketing. But first, let me ask you a question. Did you send out holiday cards this year? Did you send bulk cards or did you personalize them? Did you have time to write a note of personalization?

What if you committed to sending one, two, or even three personalized messages to individuals in your target audience per day? How much extra time would that really take out of your day? By the end of the year, think about how many people you reached out to as individuals. Think about the opportunity to convert sporadic customers to loyalists. Think about the opportunity to touch people such that they become your advocates and do a good portion of your marketing for you – for free – and most compelling given they are objective sources.

I am suggesting that a little bit of personalized marketing each day goes a long way. I can attest to the fact that it works. Think about what it means to network with people in your professional life. Networking means keeping in touch from time to time. Not looking for immediate payoff. But over time, keeping in touch with peers and professionals pays dividends in the long run. I am suggesting that you do the same exact thing in the marketing of your brand. A little bit each day will enhance users overall experience with your brand.

You can scale personalized marketing. It takes commitment day in and day out.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

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The Power of Audience Trumps the Power of Your Marketing

It is a reality all brands and marketers must come to. Who has stronger influence on the awareness, consideration, purchase, and loyalty of your brand? You the marketer or others telling friends, family, and colleagues about the positives and negatives of your product or service? It is time to stop drinking your own Kool-Aid and recognize that the greatest power of brand conversion lies in the hands of the audience you target. The power comes from them advocating on your behalf.

audience power

More than ever, the entire user experience shapes the value and “goodness” (or lack there of) of your brand as perceived by the audience you wish to capture. All the elements of a user experience (corporate positioning, product positioning, product/service value, sales process, brand engagement, and customer support and service) must be integrated and orchestrated.

The next contributing factor to the power of your audience is their (not your) use of digital and social platforms. People talk about brands without being prompted by the brand to do so. This sharing and word of mouth marketing is usually instigated by user experience – either a positive one or a negative one.

All of this change in customer behavior does not mean that marketing is any less important than the days prior to the Internet, digital technologies, and smart mobile devices. It just means that marketers need to form strategies and plans differently. First off, the responsibilities of the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) need to expand to that of a Chief Engagement Officer (as I have written about before).

Second, marketers need to have strong empathy and complete understanding of their audiences’ needs, wants, desires, motivations, and turn offs. Social media monitoring tools enable much greater listening to individuals, but most companies use monitoring merely for sales opportunities as opposed to shaping their product position, roadmap, and go-to-market strategy.

The last point I will make is that marketing approaches must change due to audience behavior and their influence of brand reputation. You can no longer simply develop Hollywood-like advertisement and be content that will grab your audience. Marketers need to pre-plan how the creative will support and enhance the entire user experience. You need to think about how the content will be shared in a positive light. You need to think about activating your audience to become a brand advocate. And this brand advocacy and activation should be the pinnacle results you aim for. Remember – the power of your audience trumps the power of your marketing. So motivate and activate your audience to do your marketing. Think audience first.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Filed under behavior, brand communication, brand marketing, brand reputation, brands, influence marketing, marketing, marketing plan, Social Steve, SocialSteve, Word of Mouth Marketing

Why You Need a Chief Engagement Officer

Who is the most important person in your business? I hope you answered the customer or client? That’s right … you can take anyone out of your company and you will survive, but if the customer(s) is not there, you have a hobby, not a business.

So if the customer is the most important person, why aren’t you forming an organization around their wants, needs, and desires? Why don’t you have a point person responsible for all interactions with that imperative individual(s)? A person who is responsible for attracting them, building trust with them, selling to them, developing brand loyalty, and building a relation so rich that your customers will both rally for and defend your brand.

That is the role of the Chief Engagement Officer. Think of all the touch points that potential and existing customers have with your company. If we look at your organization today, the role and the responsibility of a Chief Engagement Officer is part marketing, sales, billing, and customer service.

Time for Chief Engagement OfficerNow you can say all the touch points I have defined and all the areas of responsibility I have listed have been in place for 100 years. So why do we need a Chief Engagement Officer now? The answer is simple. There has been one dramatic aspect that has changed the way business is done. That is the evolution and now ubiquitous nature of our digital world.

Digital technologies and cultural adoption uses have flipped the playing field completely whether you like it or not. The customer has far greater control of a brand position and reputation than the company behind the brand. There is no more making pretend this is not so and denying it. If you are, your business will soon be dead.

I recently read through an excellent presentation by David Meerman Scott titled, “The New Rules of Selling.” David details how buying behavior and actual purchasing has changed. Before they go into the car dealer, for example, they already have researched and have decided what they want to purchase. From my perspective, this means that engagement and proliferation of valuable information are paramount. The Chief Engagement Officer needs to manage all aspects of content, communication, customer service, and motivating loyal customers to advocate on behalf of the brand. I have come to the conclusion that marketing is the new sales. At bit confusing, yes, but think about it. You need to put valued information in front of your target audience to help them make buying decisions. This information and stories come from both your company and your existing audience.

As I mentioned in the beginning, “There has been one dramatic element that has changed the way business is done.” Similarly, Meerman Scott rightfully declares, “Now BUYERS are in charge of relationships they choose to do business with.” And given this reality, companies don’t require a head of sales, marketing, and customer support. They must have a Chief Engagement Officer that covers the entire gamut.

Now I know you can look me up on LinkedIn or see my bio here on my blog and see that I am the Chief Engagement Officer at Social Steve Consulting. Sure, you can easily say, “Oh Social Steve, that is so self serving to write an article covering Why You Need a Chief Engagement Officer.” But think about this … I have been a marketing executive for 20 years. I have my own consulting practice. I could have given myself any title. But I am a Chief Engagement Officer because the responsibilities that go with that title are driven by the needs of brands through out the world. Customer behavior and current business environment dictate needs to change organizational leadership structure. And organizations require a new type of leader if they really want to win customers and spawn word of mouth marketing. How much longer can brands continue to be stagnant and avoid organizational changes that must happen to drive success?

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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