As an experiment, I followed the world’s twitters during the first Obama-Romney presidential debate. Amidst the flurry of messages passing by my eyes, I finally understood in my gut and not just my head how social media has changed the balance of power when it comes to controlling brand image.
In an era when everyone single one of your customers can shout their opinions from an easily accessible “bloody pulpit,” how do you influence what these customers will say? They certainly aren’t going to copy messages from your mass market advertisements!
The answer lies in making sure that your company’s actions live out the brand image you want to build. That is the only way to have an authentic message that will be repeated by customers you cannot control. How do you do that? Lessons about leadership apply.
Leaderhip gurus Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner surveyed a diverse cross-section of people around the globe to identify leadership attributes that induce others to follow. They discovered that the first question that potential followers ask themselves when deciding whether or not to follow a “leader” is “Is this person honest, i.e., do I trust this person to be true to his word?
The same test holds true of company messages – “Do I trust what this company wants to tell me?” If companies do not back their promises with actions that deliver on those promises, trust is broken. BP’s social media buzz intensified, mostly with negative messages, following the Gulf Oil spill, making fewer people believe the company’s stated commitment to environmental principles. Profits more than environmental concerns appeared to drive Gulf Oil drilling decisions according to social media buzz pulling from press reports and government documents.
The second question that followers ask of leaders is “Do I find the leader forward looking and his message inspiring?” The parallels in the branding world are “Will this brand remain relevant to my life and do I find it inspiring?” Undifferentiated brands and those that lack the energy to remain relevant in our lives do not pass this test. As a result, the organization’s stakeholders will not bother to engage in the two-way conversation required for an authentic brand to emerge through social media.
I for one, give no feedback to grocery stores about their store brands. These products are generics, after all. But I do communicate with Hertz when I am disappointed or delighted because Hertz is one of the vendors in my life that can either make a trip effortless or full of unproductive time. And the company is clearly differentiated in my experience from Budget, National and other competitors in terms of saving me time and hassle. Hertz’s brand promise is relevant to me and I put energy into making sure they live up to that promise.
Kouzes and Posner’s fourth test of leadership is the question “Is this person competent?” I have found through experience that Hertz is a competent company, able to deliver more often than not on their brand promise—and that’s why their company name appears frequently in my blog (social media contributing to brand image).
Companies need to claim a value promise that emerges from existing or potential capabilities and communicate a brand character consistent with true corporate character. Then they need to align measures, processes and skills internally to deliver on the value promise and stay true to their corporate character.
Trust, forward-focus, inspiration and competency. Great leaders create all four, as do great brands. The result is genuineness – an authentic person or brand that people will follow and gladly communicate with through today’s two-way social media channels.
Thinking about the presidential election, Romney’s conflicting messages have created challenges on the first trait – trustworthiness – while Obama’s record has created challenges on the fourth trait – competency.
According to Intrabrand, Goldman Sachs lost 16% of its brand equity between 2011 and 2012 due to growing distrust about the company’s intentions. Concurrently, Samsung, with a 40% increase in equity, won the award for top riser on Intrabrand’s Top 100 Global Brands list. Why? Better products delivered on an inspiring value promise of innovative, reliable products and services, a promise captured in the phrase, “Imagine what Samsung can do for you.” Watch one of Samsung’s ads on TV this week. The ads are a textbook example of positioning directly against a competitor, in this case Apple. Obama should take some lessons!
Are you delivering an authentic brand that will be reflected in what your customer’s say about you through social media?