As you read this the world’s most dangerous symbol is only a few inches from your eyes. That small, blue thumbs-up icon may look harmless enough but not if it distracts you from the real game in town - arming your brand to tell better stories.
The future of your social media success is not chasing friends and followers, but rather influencing what they are talking about. Here's my prediction - your most important decision this year will not be the amount of money you spend recruiting fans on Facebook, but rather the investment you make in the stories through which your brand tells your customers what it stands for. Let me explain.
When a fighter jet approaches an aircraft carrier to land, after a high G turn to throw off speed, they then do the unthinkable - they rev to full throttle. The idea is simple. If the jet misses the arresting gear wire, it needs enough velocity to take off again. But stranger still, is the fact that I learned this not from talking to a pilot but the marketing director of IWC watches in Geneva.
At the SIHH watch fair this year, IWC staged an incredible, immersive brand environment that created the illusion you had stepped on board a high tech naval vessel. Awash with a cast of real life Top Gun veterans and celebrities - all recruited to do the one thing that luxury brands do better than just about anyone else - telling sophisticated brand stories to sell IWC products.
According to Karoline Huber, head of marketing at the Swiss watch brand, IWC tells two kinds of stories to attract its customers. There are horizontal stories that establish heritage, explain provenance and reassure customers of the brand's long history of quality, engineering and authenticity. And then there are vertical stories - annual themes like military aviation, deep diving, ship navigation or Italian south coast lifestyle - that support specific product lines and provide a contemporary edge to the core brand values. In the luxury industry, stories are what establish a brand's prestige - not just because they defend premium pricing, but because they provide something for their customers to believe and talk about. The brand becomes an expression of the customer’s beliefs and it is this they want to share.
So why should this matter to you? Luxury brands are one thing - but you sell washing machines, industrial tunnelling machines, legal services or mortgages. Truth is - whatever business you are in - if you want to engage your customers on social platforms, you need to think very deliberately about what you want them to talk about. You need to be telling them the story that they will want to express in turn to their network.
It is no longer enough to just hire a team of copywriters to invent clever fictions about your brand. In the very near future, you will need to think about how you turn your stories into weapons of mass attention.
Here are five ideas to get you started today:
1. Build A Dedicated Content Team
The worst thing you can do is outsource your storytelling and content to your marketing agency. Think seriously about bringing your content resources in house - even if it is just the editors to drive the content strategy. If you don't have them already - you need a strong set of video assets for YouTube, regulararticles for your blog and newsletters, whitepapers and controversial thought pieces, and other interesting content for people to share on their networks.
2. Close The Loop
Storytelling may seem like an art, but these days it is also a science. Spend time understanding the new tools of inbound marketing, and track which articles and videos attract the most leads, and which of those leads end up becoming customers. Platform integration and data analytics can be tough to implement, but when you can understand exactly what types of content really engage and convert consumers, it will transform the way you think about your brand stories and further inform how you allocate marketing funds.
3. Bring In The Anthropologists
Study the lives of your tribes. You may know what kinds of stories you want to tell, but what stories are your customers listening to or already telling each other about your products? How are these stories changing, and what is driving these changes? These questions are a study anthropology, not academia. Immerse yourself in your customers’ lives to gain critical insights into how to make your brands truly a part of their story.
4. Leverage Pinterest
The persona board is already a favourite tool for brand experts. They are a quirky way of illustrating a consumer segment through a collage of products, pop culture and activities that best represent them. Spend some time on Pinterest and you will realise that the future business model of that platform may lie in the incredible data on product and brand affinity it offers marketers. As a very early example, check out the Women's Inspiration Day campaign by Kotex in Israel, where the brand used Pinterest to find out what inspired fifty women from their pin-up boards and sent care packages based on their contents. By being creative you can quickly apply this approach to any product. For example in mortgages perhaps you ask your customers to collect images of what they will buy with the savings you have achieved for them over the life of the loan. Surely a more interesting story than a 0.75% reduction in their interest rate!
5. Scale Global, Talk Local
The most compelling stories always have a local twist, and social media is no exception. I've been watching for some time how global brands like Converse have successfully engaged new consumers in markets like China by contextualising global brand values with hyper local content strategies. And in emerging markets, local celebrity endorsement whether on Weibo in China or Orkut in Brazil - is a critical part of local engagement. Social platforms may standardize in many markets, but consumers will retain a very native perspective on the content and individuals that influence them. Global CMOs will have the increasingly tough challenge of navigating the tensions between global values and local context - but the companies that become adept at this, will be clear winners in the digital space.
When I first started giving my Futuretainment presentations a number of years ago - I predicted that brands would need to behave more like media companies, and media companies more like brands. The advent of social media has made this shift a reality today. When so many are competing for 140 characters of consumer mindspace, brands have to be consistent, clear, deliberate and ruthlessly strategic about how they craft and articulate their stories in order to achieve cut-through.
Oscar Wilde's said it best - 'the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about at all.' Sage advice. The marketers of the future will arm their customers with stories worth talking about, or risk the fate of having thousands of friends with nothing to say.