Corporate Branding Goes Rogue

Why Social Media Is Radically Changing the Game

By Published on .

Judy Shapiro
Judy Shapiro

I remember as the brand management director for Lucent Technologies we worked hard to maintain a flexible yet consistent brand identity. The work from Landor won just about every creative branding award there was and the brand management team won the APQC Best-in-Class award. In those days, if a group misused the brand we said they "went rogue." We meant they deviated from the standard.

I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that corporate branding has gone rogue and the cause is social media. Here's why.

Social media is not just another tactic to be tacked onto the proverbial backside of a corporate identity system. It needs to be recognized for what it is -- the disruptive technology that radically changes the game. So much of what operated in the old corporate branding model simply does not apply anymore. In the chart below, I give just a few examples of the differences in corporate branding in the pre- and post-social media world. To me, the post-social media line in the sand puts us in the early days of 2009. That's when (more or less) social media usage crossed the chasm from being an early adopter behavior to something "Judy Consumer" did regularly.

What's changed? Everything!

Pre 2008 Pre 2009
Marketing to Audiences Brands rented eyeballs from publishers to gain access to consumers, a.k.a. audiences. Brands are building communities and relationships directly with people.
Content Creation Brands were most often not content creators themselves, but relied on media for content creation and distribution. Brands are becoming publishers. They can create and distribute content easily. (See white paper from R2i on this subject: Brands Becoming Publisher.)
Brand Management The brand standards were centrally created to ensure compliance. The community creates the brand's persona (often in reaction to a trigger event) and brand plays catch up.
Consistency in Identity Brand systems were designed for long-term consistency across markets and geographies Brands are the creation of the community and don't consistently mean the same thing across markets.

Lots of dramatic changes happening very fast make it especially hard for corporate America to adapt. But adapt we must and fast. So what might the new corporate branding approach look like?

For me, the place to start is to really embrace the notion that the new corporate branding model is one where there is a creative, collaborative dance between the company and the networked social world. In the best of situations, the community is the inspiration for the company brand strategy; they set the pace and type of dance to be shared. More than that, in this model, different communities will inspire their own special dances that will need to be incorporated into the brand strategy iteratively over much shorter cycles than ever before. One can think of the new corporate brand leader as a choreographer, encouraging the different dances at the same time, but able to thread them together so they make up a cohesive suite with a distinctive style and signature.

That's a tall order and a big challenge. It is also what makes it all incredibly interesting. Happily, this vision for corporate branding can now become real because the systems and technologies are maturing quickly to support this model. As a marketer, we can now harness the newer platforms and technologies including:

  • "Brands as publishers" concept (a phrase I gratefully attribute to R2i) which allows you to create a focused message distributed over a range of outlets using CMS technologies. This type of program is best used to support a new product, a new marketing campaign or in support of cause because it can be adapted for multiple audiences or communities.
  • Evolve a way to attract and retain influencers within your existing user groups as your first line of brand monitoring. To keep them pumped, reward them with special badges, previews or other perks.
  • Create "buddy" types of programs that link volunteer brand advocates to newbies. This gives you a powerful "early warning system" for adverse reactions or brand events.
  • Develop a clear reputation management system that lets you gauge your brand's influence across segments.
  • Evolve community-engagement platforms into multimedia communications (e.g. video-based communities) so that you can create multiple ways that members can reach each other and you easily.
  • Pay particular attention to channel partners. First, monitor how they present your brand within their e-commerce site (companies like WebCollage solve a big part of this issue). But also monitor their user groups and communities. A lot of rich insights are there to be gleaned about your brand's messaging.

All these new approaches implicitly understand that in the post-social world, businesses are interacting with "Judy Consumer" on her territory -- in her communities and networks. That reverses the balance of power. Judy Consumer demands she be treated with respect in her digital social world. I suggest we listen; otherwise she might go rogue on us.

Judy Shapiro is senior VP at Paltalk and has held senior marketing positions at Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.
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