eMarketer released results of a research which indicate that brands struggle to keep social media content on-message. In the US, the study shows, 76% of company blogs fail to communicate consistent brand message. In comparison, only 45% of brands’ messaging in mainstream media gets distorted.
There are two primary kinds of brand distortion: the first is precipitated by company representatives (employees or contracted agencies) who communicate on behalf of the company in a deliberate manner. The second: consumers, partners and other external constituents who speak about the brand, creating an organic brand perception.
The Open Web
Companies today both reap the benefits and face the challenges brought about by the open web. Citizen journalism, lack of original content, complexity of accurately using social media tools, and lack of strategy all play a role. Brands today focus on the tactical implementation of their social media marketing campaigns and have little to no bandwidth to strategically address the evolving socio-digital customer psychology.
What should companies do to reduce distortion?
In the mid 1900’s when consumer goods were becoming commercialized, laundry detergents, cereal, and dairy options could be counted on one hand. Today, companies fight hard for consumers’ share-of-wallet and brand perception has become a critical factor in the livelihood of any company—in some cases even important than the product itself. Uncontrolled distortion can be fatal for even the best product. The Honda EV, Estee Lauder (now making a comeback), HP Laptops pre 2006 are just a few examples.
There is a set of strategies and actions brands can take to ensure the brand perception they intended to communicate is indeed the one being communicated. To start, here are a few key actions brands can take:
- Create messaging guidelines accessible to all. Most companies have values messaging, vision slide-decks, and employee social media guidelines--but less so focus on creating the actual brand messaging appropriate for socio-digital communications. And yet this simple document can help eliminate the “broken telephone game” of messaging and act as first line of defense against distortion.
- Build Super Advocates who will help communicate the right message to their networks. Consumers and employees often communicate the wrong message simply because they don’t know the right one. While BMW has a “reputation” for high maintenance costs, most user forums suggest it is not because of lesser quality, rather, because of higher cost of components and service. By engaging customers and employees in content creation guided by the company, brands can ensure greater likelihood that content will better communicate the intended messaging. These often involve both online and offline activities including meet-ups, success stories, and mechanics that incentivize people to learn and use a brand’s messaging.
- Create ways for constituents to get involved with the company. Few things are stronger than unsolicited brand advocates. SAP created a gold standard community experience for their customers; Best Buy’s empowers their employees on Twitter; Southwest lets employees creatively engage with travelers on and off the ground. When people feel part of something they love, they will go to great lengths to share their love with others.
- Align brand messaging with product experience. The most important and yet most difficult to achieve is brand-to-product alignment. Multi-million dollar brand campaigns used to be extremely efficient at cementing brand perception. Levi’s is the American denim. BMW is the ultimate driving machine. Or are they?
With the rise of self-expression and asymmetric communication between brands and people, brands who promise what they cannot deliver are, for the first time in history, immediately be challenged by customers. Brand distortion in this case will be even more harmful because it will be associated with the feeling of dishonesty. And, more than anything, feelings are a much stronger behavioral trigger than thoughts and extremely difficult to turn around.
- Integrate socio-digital brand messaging measurement into other measurement activities. Companies should create a process to easily and regularly measure the pulse of the brand value in messaging, and feed results into the various activities that impact messaging communications. This should be rather simple—mostly operational in nature—but result in important quantitative information for brands.
Brand distortion is a real and critical challenge for today’s brands requiring significant adjustments in the way companies think of messaging, conduct relationship with their constituents, and communicate about their product. At the same time, I predict this is a temporary issue. Companies’ livelihood depends on their brand’s perception; millions of dollars are spent each year on brand campaigns that are not intended sell a single product. Companies simply cannot afford to stand idly as their brand gets distorted.
Within the next 2 years, we will see both creative and extremely scientific ways to reduce brand distortion. Companies will reach out to their advocates online and engage with them in much more meaningful ways while measuring impact. As a result, constituents’ feedback will reach much deeper into the company and closer to decision makers. All this is likely to result in the return of invention and innovation, especially in large brands, and the creation of products and services that better speak to people’s needs and desires in the evolving socio-digital age.