The following is a guest post by Jeff Ernst, CEO and President of Smync:
There is one fact that every brand marketing professional should hang on their cubicle wall, write on their whiteboard, bring up at every team meeting and likely lose sleep over:
More than 90 percent of the conversations around your brand don’t involve you.
So while you’re fretting over the perfect opacity to highlight the slogan of your new Facebook header image or making sure that your campaign calendar is dialed in for the next quarter, let the reality of what “brand” truly means—the collection of experiences and perception people have of your business and your products. You’re not in control of it. You control your portion of the message and the channels you place that message in. After that, it’s in the hands of “the people.”
To further compound the problem, things people say are trusted four times more than your business and have an influence in 77 percent of first-time sales. And to be even more real, other than a few select industries, your growth is dependent on taking market share from your competition and sustaining the customers you have. So how are you going to do that if you can’t control the message? What happens when people have bad experiences with your business and the first channel to vent defaults to social media?
Call them what you will: brand advocates, brand ambassadors, brand enthusiasts, etc. In the end, those loyalists that have an authentic connection with your brand are your brand defenders. They are the ones who openly talk about the great experiences they have with your business and products, what role it has added to their lives, etc. Typically, these people don’t appear as superheroes with capes, shields and masks. They look like the typical person, which is a good thing as we tend to trust people who look like us more than those superhero types. (It’s usually endorsement deals that makes them head to the dark side.)
These stories, these recommendations, these comments where somebody is saying how awful your company is and a brand defender steps up and says, “Hey, I know you had a bad experience, but my experience has been different. I’m sure if you give them a chance to fix the situation, you’ll see how great they are!” are out there for you and it makes a real impact on your business.
How do you find, engage and activate these brand defenders?
- Engage: If you haven’t recognized that authentic engagement on social media is a requirement yet, now you do. Broadcasting across any media, especially social media, simply doesn’t have the impact or generate the loyalty. Forbes recently found that 62 percent of consumers under 35 are more loyal if a brand engages them on social media. This step is a universal action across all your social media—it’s the starting point even before you take the next steps.
- Identify: Find the people truly involved in the social conversation with and around your brand. While somebody might push the “like” button a lot, you want to focus on people who frequently and consistently share your content, mention your brand or products to friends, or make comments on your social community pages.
- Activate: Foster relationships with your best people by continuing to engage them. Comment to them directly, look for surprise and delight moments, message them publicly with non-sales-driven brand content that they would be likely to share.
- Empower: After you’ve identified your best social connections, make them part of a community where they get an insider relationship and two-way experience with the brand. Build a community where these people who share an interest and passion for your brand can come together. Give them the tools to talk about your brand and let them do the rest. For many marketers, that’s the scary part. In social media, you have a unique advantage over traditional word-of-mouth in that you can have a little more impact on keeping the message consistent. But you have to cede the concept of control—truth is, you really never had it anyway.
- Keep it real: Focus on the people who have a true connection and affinity for your brand. With all the swirl around influencer marketing, much of this type of marketing focuses on a new form of paid reach where people who have amassed an audience are considered to have “influence.” The dramatic difference comes when something hits the fan: a brand defender comes to the rescue, a paid influencer hits the eject button.
Seek out your brand defenders. The word-of-mouth river has a strong undercurrent that pulls people toward or away from your business and these cape-less crusaders are truly the ones who can lend a hand and guide people in the right direction.
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