Is your brand personality boooooring?

Brand personality has always been important. (Duh.) Now, for brands in social media, it matters more than ever. When a brand enters social media it should take a long hard look at how its personality is stacking up in that context. Welcome to the personality contest, folks. Bring it.

Let’s use the airline business as an example. It’s one that I know reasonably well, having worked on the American Airlines business at their agency in Dallas a few lifetimes ago. American has always been a seriously conservative brand. I would describe their brand personality as professional and efficient. It’s the LinkedIn of airlines. Yawn.

When you walk into the par-tay or networking event known as social media, is professional and efficient how you want to be seen? Does that cut it? While those traits are relevant for the frequent business traveler, which admittedly is American’s bread and butter, isn’t there a little more to it that that? Their stated customer commitment on their website is “safe, dependable and friendly” air transportation. So what does friendly MEAN in a social media environment?
Does it mean civil and pleasant responses to customer inquiries, as American seems to provide via @AAirwaves on Twitter? I think it takes more than basic courtesy to be seen as a friendly brand, though I applaud them for being responsive.
Does it mean a rapping flight attendant, as for Southwest Air, which in 2008 was named the Most Admired Airline by Fortune Magazine – probably one or two business travelers reading that, I’m thinking – and the Friendliest Airline by A huge part of Southwest’s popularity is, in fact, driven by its brand personality, carried through each customer experience touchpoint. Maybe rap isn’t for everyone, and as I understand it, the Southwest Flight Attendant, David Holmes, started the rap thing himself. But that’s because the company created a culture of personality in which he could do that.
I would say there are plenty of other ways for American – or any brand – to use social media to humanize its brand. That’s half or more of the advantage of these new tools, isn’t it, the ability to put a face on  your brand?
When I go to American’s channel on the new YouTube beta it’s mostly junk about their new planes. Social media is NOT about your planes, your sale, or your junk. It’s about people. Personalities. Stories.

What’s the rest of your competitive social sphere look like? Maybe you’ve also got a brand like AirTran, with its crowdsourcing site and winning points by being the first airline to offer WiFi on every flight. (Hopefully, you do not have their social “hate” groups created by customers.) Based on the Tweet I showed at the start of this post, I would say that when you choose to go social, you are putting yourself in a position where you are going to be compared, and you need to deal with that fact.

I’m not saying any of this to dis American. I would actually give them a pat on the back for being social, and figuring it out, and doing some good things. (And I did try to contact @billysanez from American to get his perspective, but strangely enough have not heard back. Go figure.)
If your brand or your client is participating in social media, take the time to step back and reevaluate 1) what your personality is and whether it needs to evolve and 2) whether how you are expressing it is strong enough.

What do you think about how brand personality needs to evolve?

Four strategies to overcome sociomediaphobia

Sociomediaphobia (noun): fear and loathing triggered by the mere notion of conversational engagement with customers and prospects.

Why are so many clients so afraid of social media? It can be perplexing, when it’s so easy for “us” to see the opportunity, and it’s not so easy to persuade “them” to see the light.
Case in point. There’s a brand that I desperately want to work with and know with 100% certainty that we could create amazing results with. In spite of doing relatively little marketing communication, this brand has numerous, hungry fans who, like me, are begging for them to create a community online. The fans have created a Facebook page where they are literally asking for the brand to engage, and a fake Twitter account on behalf of the brand. It is also a brand with stories that are so rich that they would make you drool. Yet, the brand’s response when I proposed actively participating in social media was something to the effect of: “Yes, we know. Maybe later.”

Trying to put myself in the client’s shoes – part of the purpose of this blog – I think back to the time before I was personally engaged online. I suppose it was one part fear of the unknown, and one part not knowing where to start climbing the enormous mountain of information. So I dove in head first, and it has become the most fun I have had in my 20 years in this business.
Here are a few “blocking and tackling” strategies to overcome this fear and help move people who would really benefit from a social media strategy along the curve a little bit faster:
1. Educate in a way that whets the appetite. In addition to “the presentation” and “the demonstration” serve up “appetizers” in the form of great stories on a regular basis (sans stalking, and assuming there is at list some marginal interest). Unearthing a relevant research study in the client’s specific category with real quantitative data on what similar or competitive brands are doing in social media helps, when possible. Third party endorsements are always good, so I’m going to see if I can get this particular client to attend a social media conference with me. Data creates confidence, whereas anecdotal evidence of “coolness” perpetuates doubt. Of course, the data doesn’t exist for everything yet, which will remain part of the challenge for a while. So if you can’t find it, just tell them that the Pope is using Facebook now, and that should win them over for sure.
2. Speak their language – not “ours”. It is essential to use simple, accessible language and keep the lingo to a reasonable level. Resist the powerful urge to tell them how cool hashtags are three minutes into the conversation. Remember that not everyone is as much of a geek as you are. Let’s face it – those of us who live and breathe and love social media tend to use language that makes even others in the profession glaze over. A very intelligent coworker has pointed out to me that I sometimes speak “in code”. This is a difficult thing to keep top of mind and even harder to change, and I think regular Twitter use actually exacerbates the challenge because we get used to talking mainly with fellow devotees. But it’s got to be done. Are you speaking in code? Stop it. Now.
3. Sell the sizzle, not the steak. Spoken like a true early 90′s ad grad, right? But really – like anything, you’ve got to sell the benefits, not the features. So abandon any remote thought of using the ” it’s about relationships, how can you put a measurement on that?” argument. One, it’s crap, and two, any marginally engaged client is going to be out the door at that point in the conversation. The other part of speaking their language (besides speaking plain English or whatever language you speak) is speaking to the bottom line. Today I shared with this client some great information on ROI measurement via thebrandbuilder blog which does an outstanding job of articulating the opportunity social communication tools present them to not just engage and build community, but to demonstrably grow their business.
4. Learn patience. As @ambercadabra recently reminded me, contrary to what I wanted to hear, we will all need to learn patience in spades to help most others navigate this sea change. Unfortunately, not every brand is run by innovators. It isn’t easy, but deal with it. I work with a guy who is the most amazing relationship-builder I have ever known because he nurtures a “sale” over the period of months, years, whatever it takes. And it that’s what it takes, I am determined to see this brand feed its online community. It will happen.
What do YOU think are the best ways to overcome Sociomediaphobia?

Yes, I AM Specialized. Do you care?

Dear @iamspecialized,
I would like you to know about my raging love affair. With my new Specialized Roubaix road bike.
Like your other 433 Twitter followers, I would actually like to have a relationship with you and your brand. But, since you are only following 20 of us, and using your Twitter feed as a one-way news and content feed, you are missing that opportunity.
I have tweeted about my Specialized bike. Had you been listening and responding, imagine the impact it would have had on me to have received a simple reply from you, saying “Hey, Spaight, thanks, welcome to the Specialized family.” I am what marketers dream of – you give me a little love in return, and I will spread the love like you won’t believe. And I’m sure there are others like me, with much more social clout that you are missing, too.
I really like Masi bikes, too. And @timjackson from talks to me. Funny thing, because I post so much about biking in all of my social haunts, lots of people have been asking me lately about what kind of bike to buy. What should I tell them? Are you interested in a relationship with us “regular folks”, or if I am not an elite rider, do you not care? Because that’s the impression I am getting from you. Your website is sweet and a joy to navigate. Your rider blogs and videos are entertaining, but from what I have seen, pretty much one way.
As @getresults tweeted this morning, “Listen, so they don’t vote with their feet.”
Are you listening?

Marquette University: Telling, not selling

I’ve been doing a lot of research on what higher education is doing with social media to engage students, prospects and alumni. And I just have to give some kudos to Milwaukee’s Marquette University (MU), because they are at the top of the heap, not just locally but nationally. It’s a great example to share with clients and others who are looking for what social media “should” look and feel like.

Today’s butt-cover statement: MU is not my client. Actually, Alverno College is a client of my employer, so I suppose this post could get me in trouble if anyone overreacts. Keep in mind that 1) Alverno College rocks 2) this is my personal blog and has nothing to do with my employer and 3) I’m not commenting on the schools, just social media. (Oh yeah and I have three blog followers, so how much does it really matter?)
That said…Marquette recently got quite a bit of play for using Twitter as a teaching tool. Social media is clearly not a bolt on to the communications plan – it’s become part of the curriculum.
The biggest strength of Marquette’s social presence, though, is it’s highly authentic and likeable human personality. The guy behind it is Tim Cigelske, or @Teecycle_Tim, a 2004 graduate of MU’s School of Journalism, former Montana bellboy and US Airways baggage handler, AP correspondent and newspaper reporter, turned Communication Specialist. I’m thinking there’s something huge owed to the fact that Tim is a content-creator by training and by trade, not a “marketing guy”.
Marketers take note: Tim’s not selling. He’s telling.  Telling strategic stories.
If you want to show someone how to engage effectively on Twitter, you could show them Marquette’s Twitter stream. (If you want to also show them how NOT to engage on Twitter, you could show them the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Twitter stream. Ouch.)
Marquette’s Facebook fan page, likewise, is a great mix of news and events with stories about individual people – what a concept! In January 2009, they launched a Facebook Class of 2013 forum dedicated to fueling conversation between current students and prospective ones. While this might seem like a no brainer, it seems to be out front in the world of higher ed, from what I have seen so far.
And – proving once again that many of the best social communications happen by sheer serendipity, if you haven’t seen the video of graduating Marquette students “Shouting” goodbye, definitely check it out. I found it to be pretty emotional (though a bit too long for my personal taste). This is completely student-generated, with no influence from the communications folks, I’m told. And it shows, in how much it is felt, not acted. But the point is, the communications team “gets it” and helped this video spread to it’s over 5,000 views to date. I wonder how much great, “free” content higher education is missing.

The only thing didn’t necessarily get is why the only blog I could find for Marquette was the Law School Faculty Blog. According to the latest report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 50% of private college and universities have blogs (though I speculate that probably 90% of them suck). So, it seems like they might be missing an opportunity to build their personality even more and add some depth to the conversation. And, given their brand strategy of “Be the Difference”, there’s definitely opportunity to use social communications to build that position while also building community. As “Mr. Cigelske” stated, “We’ve got some things in the works. You’ve got to just keep thinking big.”

Way to go Marquette. Even though one of the humans I personally couldn’t care less about is Danny Gokey, nice job with the social stuff.

What do you think of what MU is doing? Have you seen any other great higher ed stuff?

Harley-Davidson is revving up its social web strategy

Two days ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Randy Sprenger at Harley-Davidson to learn about their social web efforts. As a former agency Account Director on their business, I have a ton of passion for the brand oozing through my veins, and frankly was seeing some things on Twitter that made me wonder if they “get it”. So I initiated this conversation to try to see things from their perspective.

I’m putting myself in a bit of an awkward position here, frankly, which is a great way to learn. If I say anything negative, I risk ticking off people I like at a company that I love. If I don’t, I’m not being completely honest. I’m counting on the fact that Randy – who is a seriously smart guy who had responsibility for globally for 8 years – said he is open to learning from others who have a strong point of view, as I learned from him.
Harley-Davidson has embraced digital communication in a way that has well supported the desires of their uber-passionate customer community. And the social web is no exception. Although from the outside it sometimes looks like they are moving “at the speed of corporate,” that is by conscious strategic choice. Moving deliberately ensures that they remain true to the ideals of the brand and authentic in spirit. Keep in mind: this is a brand that had a die-hard customer community — fueled by H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) — decades before community was cool.
So job one, socially speaking, must be to support the passions and needs of that community. With 145,000+ fans on Facebook so far, H-D can post a question to start a thread and have 175 fan posts in ONE HOUR. Would you kill for that kind of customer engagement? Yeah, I thought so. Take a look at their very global Facebook fan page here.
Facebook isn’t what H-D considers their biggest social web success, though. The company took some heat by a few die-hards for “selling out” when it used Victoria’s Secret model Marisa Miller to launch its V-Rod Muscle model. But in conjunction with a 24-hour featured video buy on YouTube, its “Making of Marisa Miller and the Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle” video drew 600,000 views. Check out the video here. Although I must admit that, at the time, I was in the “sellout” camp, it’s pretty hard to argue with that kind of outreach for a brand that has been working for a decade now to attract younger riders. As Randy said, “It’s become a cliche, but content is still king.” I couldn’t agree more — content and creativity — and there are few brands that can boast the trough of rich content that H-D has to feed from.
So the biggest thing I learned? Remember that things are not always as they seem from the outside.
If there’s anything I could constructively criticize about Harley’s social efforts – and there isn’t much – it would still be the personality, or relative lack thereof, of their Twitter presence.  In fairness, I should say that H-D started on Twitter in January 2009, so they are justifiably still in the “figuring it out” stage. I understand the logic that they are using it as a communication channel largely for “the brand” to communicate with those already engaged, and to listen to the voice of the customer. There can be no doubt that listening is a great early step on Twitter. But Twitter is also a chance to put a human face (or faces) and an otherwise corporate monolith, among a broader audience of curious passers-by who could very well become Harley riders if they are engaged in the incredible story and experience, by an actual human being.
The time has come for many brands to stop treating social networking like an extension of advertising, and time to start using it as the personal, individual connection tool that it is. Authentically communicate person-to-person, not business-to-consumer. And I know I’m not alone in this opinion, as I’ve seen other conversation about it in my networks. Whoever I saw coin the term “P2P” last week, step up and take credit. It’s the truth.
What’s next for Harley-Davidson on the social web and what’s their biggest question for all the social web gurus out there? They are indeed in the process of shifting from using it as a customer tool to talking with new folks. Part of that challenge is deciding how to best address its many diverse audiences – women, younger riders, Hispanic riders, and more.
Do you have any ideas? Have you seen a brand do a great job at this?
If anyone knows anyone at Nike in the web/social web function, please hook me up with them. Off the top of my head that’s the brand that’s got the most similar challenges.
Comments are very welcome – thanks.

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