Key Social Media Marketing Tips for your Brand

April 27-29 I joined marketers from across Canada at the annual CMA conference in Toronto and returned energized and excited about the evolution of marketing and how ED’s customers can benefit. The main theme of the conference was ‘creativity and creative thinking’ and although the creative minds were there – including a session with amazing Canadian musician and marketer David Usher – I took away a lot about building relationships between businesses and consumers using both traditional and new social networking.
The main 4 points that I would like to share to help you build your brand in the realm of social marketing are:
1. Focus on relationships not the campaign
2. Begin the dialogue then amplify
3. Trust, sincerity and vulnerability
4. The conversation is happening whether you participate or not

Focus on Relationships
Marketing is building relationships not campaigns. Although by no means a new concept, this basic, foundational principal of marketing is often forgotten both by marketers and businesses. A good question to ask is how will this initiative/ad/sponsorship or event help us build on existing customer relationships and take steps to create new relationships? A clear case study of this, which was used frequently at the conference is the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, which increased revenue by a whopping 700% during its first six months!
Dove was known for its line of facial soap bars but was having a difficult time breaking into the competitive arena of hair care and body wash products. The company conducted an international study of women and learned that the majority of those surveyed stopped short of saying that they were beautiful – and so grew the “campaign for real beauty” (produced by a Canadian marketing firm I might add!). A combination of ads, online videos gone viral and a social initiative to build the self esteem of young girls through the Dove Self-Esteem fund. Take a minute visit their website to see the depth they’ve gone to build their relationship with women – including tools for educators and mentors and a video that encourages the consumer to question the very industry they are part of. Granted you may not have the budgets of Unilever or an international audience but your customers still crave a relationship with the businesses they frequent and the products they use. And, building relationships is not a spectator sport!

Begin the Dialogue then Amplify
This is inspired by the opening keynote presenter, Charlene Li, co-author of Groundswell and founder of Altimeter Group. Li captivated her audience by exploring the intricacies of social media, blogs and social networking. It seems like every other moment someone is talking about blogging, Youtube, Facebook or new kid on the block, Twitter. Daily, we question the ethics, the challenges, the very usefulness of these applications for anyone over the age of 40 – much less for a business looking to further their relationship with their customers. However, as Li said, these are tools for companies to increase and encourage a discussion with their customers. Just ask a business that does it right!
Kogi BBQ to-go is an LA based company that uses a fleet of vans to sell its product – Koean BBQ mixed with “the portability of tacos”.  Kogi BBQ’s Twitter name is – they have 19, 640 followers. On Twitter a “follower” is someone who subscribes to 140 character updates posted by others on Twitter. Kogi BBQ probably has so many followers because Twitter is the only way to know where the vittles van is parked at any given time! If customers have trouble finding the location they can post a “tweet” and Kogi staff will answer with directions. They also “tweet” specials on a regular basis and have a post that says the day they reach 20 000 followers, Chef Roy will buy the first 20 people at each truck two tacos. The 19 000 people who follow Kogi would have received this update to their emails – talk about an amplified discussion.

Trust, Sincerity and Vulnerability
These three characteristics can make or break your brand. They are a hard pill to swallow for many businesses trying to make the most of the new “virtual sphere” especially because authenticity can’t be bought, staged or made up – an inauthentic presence online can be the kiss of death and smelled a mile away. Even businesses that operate with these values in the “real world” have trouble putting their corporate souls online. Done right, an online presence with a foundation in trust, sincerity and vulnerability can lead the ultimate customer loyalty, consumer trust and consequently a rock solid bottom line. Done poorly, it can lead to, well, – a disaster for all to see that can be replayed and circulated in emails for all time.
An example we heard at the conference was a promotion at  from Danone’s Activia brand of probiotic yogurt. The offer was to complete a survey to receive a coupon for 2 weeks worth of yogurt. Then the follow up offer was to complete a second survey after trying the product and receive a second coupon for another two weeks supply. The comments at the beginning of the forum posts are extremely positive about this promotion – people are very excited and chatting with each other about receiving their coupons and trying the product. However, the dialogue that starts on the forum February 8th, 2009 with comments like “Thanks to Activia. I will have the chance to try and help my digestive problems. I can’t wait!!!” goes on to a separate post on March 25th, 2009 by a potential customer saying “they completely backed out of sending us it. They’ve lost me as a customer. I feel used.” Imagine one of your customers feeling used. Not a good way for anyone in a relationship to feel. The last post on the forum site says that they are still processing applications for the free coupons and trial.

The Conversation is Happening whether you Participate or Not
The accessibility and ease of use of new media and social marketing means that you and your brand are being discussed online regardless of whether or not you choose to be proactive and participate in whatever media suits your industry and business the best. The questions are being asked, the opinions shared and feedback given between peers, friends, colleagues and competitors. Petro Canada realized this and started a blog “Pump Talk” that enables customers to ask the company, directly, those burning questions that are discussed off and online anyway and, they do answer them. If you aren’t participating in the conversations happening about your product, company or industry, who is and what they are saying could affect your relationship with your customer.

Hopefully you aren’t completely overwhelmed by what I learned last week – let’s just say it was three days of trying to take a graceful sip from a full on fire hose of information. Remember we are evolving into uncharted territory by fostering relationships in both the ‘bricks and mortar’ and virtual worlds. By simultaneously interacting in each sphere – the physical and the virtual – as individuals and businesses we can have a bigger impact, far reaching opportunities and a heavy responsibility to participate and manage our brands in each arena.

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