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Brand positioning takes on a new meaning in a Hyper-Social world

brandingtagsmSome pundits will tell you that you should do away with brand messaging and positioning all together, since you cannot control it anyway. Not so fast! People need to know what bucket to put your offering in, and if they can’t, they won’t know how to assign value to what you have to offer. Tivo ended up in that pickle, with consumers not quite sure what category of products to compare the offering with. Was it more like a DVD player or was it more like a computer?

Knowing that a good positioning will impact your revenue and profits, and realizing that you still have a seat at the customer decision making table (it’s just a much more crowded table and your share of voice has significantly been reduced) you need to develop a point of view about your positioning and try to get it co-opted by your tribe. Like in most social interactions, your chances to get someone to adopt your point of view are going to increase if you involve them early on. The more say you give them in the process of co-creating your products and services, and the earlier you get them involved (preferably at the product concept stage) the more they will embrace a shared view of the brand and product positioning. An added benefit of co-creating products with your customers is that those who are involved in the design of new products will typically pay higher prices for those products .

Marketing executives have come to understand, sometimes the hard way, that brand perception is only as good as the last interaction the customer had with it. When I spoke with Mark Colombo, senior vice president of digital access marketing at FedEx he described the challenge as follows: “In the 50’s and 60’s, brands used to be built on a set of attributes. Now brands are built by customers, one experience at a time, and those experiences are, obviously, more and more online experiences.” So you cannot just convey a brand’s promise or a product’s positioning through advertising and packaging anymore, you also need to deliver against that promise across all your other customer touch-points, and at any time. That becomes especially challenging when you have complex product distribution channels, high numbers of people involved in your service delivery, or a high level of interaction between your customers and your customer service and support center. It gets further complicated by user generated touch-points that people will encounter in the form of online reviews, blogs, and online communities. All those touch-points can make or break your brand, product, or service promise and position. Like many other things in marketing, this is not something new; it’s just something that we used to get away with because our customers, prospects and detractors could not behave Hyper-Socially and hold us accountable for our actions.

The way you control a brand promise through multiple touch-points is not through elaborate process manuals that we have grown accustomed to in business. The way to do it is by embracing Hyper-Sociality and all the messiness that comes with it and allow all the people involved in the process to behave like humans. Some companies like Zappos and JetBlue achieve that through a shared values-based culture that creates a common sense of belonging among their employees. Others like Western Union achieve it by becoming customer-centric to a fault. Still others, like IBM, are doing it by encouraging all their employees to set up communities with whomever they want, wherever they want, and about anything they want.

The key to success is to embrace all four tenets of Hyper-Sociality: think tribes, knowledge networks, customer-centricity, and be willing to accept some of the messiness that comes with Hyper-Sociality.

What do you think? I would appreciate your feedback.

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