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What Brands Can Learn From Marketers Outside Their Industry

Three Ways Brands Can Learn From Others to Shape Social Strategies

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Larry Bird and Magic Johnson -- two fierce rivals in one of basketball's most storied eras. The documentary "Magic & Bird -- A Courtship of Rivals" highlights how the two studied, thought about and obsessed over each other's performance. Who put in more hours of practice each day? Who had the better weekly game stats? Who won the most MVP honors?

As humans, it's natural to set our eyes and minds upon direct competitors to help shape our own aspirations and behavior. The same holds true for brands (which we often forget are made up of individual humans). American Airlines and United. Nike and Adidas. McDonald's and Burger King. We expect these brands to wonder what the other guy is up to. It is, in a sense, "keeping up with the Joneses" at the highest level.

But can Nike learn anything from Red Bull? Can CitiBank take cues from American Airlines? When it comes to social media strategy and tactics, the answer is "yes."

Brands can and should look to others in their traditional competitive set to help guide their social media efforts. This can range from understanding which social networks to focus resources on to uncovering specific content or campaigns that elicit high engagement from consumers generally interested in travel, shoes, fast food, etc.

Likewise, brands can harvest actionable social media insights and set creative direction based on those from outside their sector.

Here are a few examples of how this might work.

1. Customer service insights: Airlines and hospitality brands have typically led the charge on using social media for customer service. Brands outside of the sector such as financial or credit card companies that also deal with a lot of customer service-related issues can look to the social strategies of airlines for best practices. These KPIs can include response-rate percentage, average response time, and response type -- for example, does the brand request a direct message, apologize openly, etc.

2. Event-based marketing: As the 2014 Winter Olympics and FIFA World Cup demonstrated, event-based marketing via social media is an immense opportunity for brands to reach engaged audiences all over the globe. Brands (even ones that aren't official event sponsors) can benchmark their social efforts against other sponsors outside of their sector. For example, a brand like Coke could benchmark its social content and campaigns against Sony or Visa for a major event -- not just against other beverage or cola brands.

3. Fan affinity: Consumers often choose products based on demographics and psychographics, and brands can learn a lot by observing the social strategies of brands that fall outside of their sector but target the same consumer. For example, an auto brand could look at the social media efforts of a clothing brand that goes after the same young affluent consumer. This data informs what type of content each brand is up against from a share-of-voice perspective with that specific audience. Brands can look to brands outside of their sector to identify specific content and campaigns that resonate well (or have failed) with the audience they have in common.

Larry Bird once said: "I don't know if I practiced more than anybody, but I sure practiced enough. I still wonder if somebody -- somewhere -- was practicing more than me."

Today's digital marketers don't have to sit around wondering what other brands are doing on social media. With the right platforms, they can quickly and easily understand the who, what, where and when of social success (and failure). And by success, we mean audience engagement that transcends vanity metrics such as follows and likes.

From new products to TV advertisements to social media, you keep tabs on and benchmark against direct competitors -- that's a given. But are you observing brands on social media outside of your sector? If not, you may be missing insights that can yield unexpected ideas, push you to think differently and stir up new wells of creativity that might otherwise remain stagnant.

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